Research Hit: Wishful Thinking Blocks Realism When We Need It Most

Andy Hab
3 min readJun 7, 2024

A recent study shows that wishful thinking is higher when negative outcomes are also higher — leading to greater harm.

So If I’ve got that right, this is saying we engage in more wishful thinking when we shouldn’t be!?

Yes, that is the outcome of this study published a few weeks ago now. What’s more this can prevent us from taking essential action!

Oh dear — explain how this comes about and was researched.

Yes, this was quite a cool experiment. Jan Engelmann and colleagues of the University of Amsterdam wanted to find out whether people do indeed become more optimistic when facing potential hardships. Some studies have shown this, others have been less clear.

So they conducted research online and in the lab with an impressive 1’700 people. The participants where shown patterns of dots on a screen and some were designed to induce anxiety though negative outcomes. In this case the negative outcome was a small electric shock (if in the lab) or losing money.

Ok and what should happen — surely we should learn the negative pattern and avoid it?!



Andy Hab

Sharing fascinating, fun, and important knowledge on the brain and human behaviour - most days. And masters track athlete - still going strong!