When positive outcomes and reality collide: Children prefer optimists as social partners

Laura Hennefield, Laura M. Talpey, Lori Markson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

Optimists, by definition, make inaccurate (overly positive) predictions regarding future event outcomes. Adults favor optimists as social partners. If children also prefer optimists, that preference could indicate early social benefits of being optimistic and might also shape how and what children learn regarding the likelihood of future outcomes. The present study thus sought to determine how children integrate the conflicting dimensions of optimism and accuracy in their social (friendship) preferences. Across two experiments (N = 133) 3- to 6-year-old children chose optimists over realists as social partners even if they were able to correctly identify the realist as being the most accurate of the two. However, when children made mistakes in identification, those mistakes primarily took the form of identifying the optimist as most accurate. These findings suggest that young children weigh optimism more heavily than accuracy in their affiliative relationships. Misidentifying the optimist as accurate also supports the notion that children have a bias to expect others to provide positive information. Further, a social preference for optimists might impact children's abilities to learn the true likelihood of event outcomes, as affiliating with optimists may result in setting oneself up to receive more positive (mis)information in the future. Such a preference suggests a mechanism by which optimism is perpetuated and points to potential social benefits that derive from being optimistic.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101070
JournalCognitive Development
Volume59
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021

Keywords

  • Event outcomes
  • Optimism
  • Positivity bias
  • Probabilistic reasoning
  • Social partners

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