Researchers have used terms such as unrealistic optimism and optimistic bias to refer to concepts that are similar but not synonymous. Drawing from 3 decades of research, we discuss critically how researchers define unrealistic optimism, and we identify four types that reflect different measurement approaches: unrealistic absolute optimism at the individual and group levels and unrealistic comparative optimism at the individual and group levels. In addition, we discuss methodological criticisms leveled against research on unrealistic optimism and note that the criticisms are primarily relevant to only one type: the group form of unrealistic comparative optimism. We further clarify how the criticisms are not nearly as problematic as they might seem, even for unrealistic comparative optimism. Finally, we note boundary conditions on the different types of unrealistic optimism and reflect on five broad questions that deserve further attention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-411
Number of pages17
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2013


  • comparative optimism
  • optimistic bias
  • risk judgments
  • unrealistic optimism


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