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Optimistic Expectations Have Benefits for Effort and Emotion With Little Cost


The present investigation examined the potential benefits and costs of optimistic expectations about future events through the lens of error management theory (EMT). Decades of evidence have shown that optimism about the likelihood of future events is pervasive and difficult to correct. From an EMT perspective, this perpetuation of inaccurate beliefs is possible because optimism offers benefits greater than the costs. The present investigation examined this possibility for controllable important life events with a known time at which they would occur. College students taking their first exam (n = 1,061) and medical students being matched with residency placements (n = 182) reported their expectations and emotions weeks before the event and their responses after they knew the outcome of the event. Optimistic expectations predicted the quality of effort investment before an event occurred-students were more satisfied with their studying, medical students were more satisfied with their decision making, and optimism predicted better performance. Optimistic expectations also predicted less emotional distress before the event. There was no evidence that optimistic expectations related to longer-term greater distress when participants experienced an unexpected negative outcome; the valence of the outcome itself predicted distress. These results are consistent with the EMT-derived hypothesis that optimistic expectations have benefits for effort and emotion before an event occurs, with little cost after the outcome occurs. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

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