According to research, cultural background heavily influences tendency toward optimistic bias. Scholars find that optimistic bias is based on whether cultures have an independent construal of self, as Western nations do, or an interdependent construal of self, as Eastern countries do.
General Influence of the Southern United States’ Culture on Optimistic Bias
America is a Western culture, which defines “the independent construal of self as characterized by a bounded and autonomous sense of self that is relatively distinct from others and the environment” (Heine & Lehman, 1995, p. 596). According to Chang, Sanna, and Asakawa, “for most Westerners it is the attainment of personal happiness . . . that is highly regarded and sought after, as codified and expressed in historical works . . . [such as] the United States' Declaration of Independence” (2001, p. 447). This attitude about the self leads to the optimistic bias in Western Culture.
Influence of the Southern United States’ Culture on My Own Optimistic Bias
As an American from the south, I share the cultural idea that individuals are responsible for personal happiness and success. When people feel they lack control, this presents a threat to the idea of an independent construal of self. Heine and Lehman (1995) an optimistic bias in my culture serves as a defense mechanism allowing individuals to deal with the stress of a situation (p.105). Therefore, phrases like, “keep positive” motivate me when a situation is tough.
Optimistic Bias: An Example of its Advantage
Optimistic bias proved helpful to me was when I wrote a Letter to the Editor of the New York Times. Very few letters to the Editor of this paper are printed or responded to, but that didn’t stop me from writing. However, in my case, I actually received a personal response from the Editor. Thinking optimistically about my own opinion and not letting the negative statistics stop me from writing proved advantageous.
Optimistic Bias: An Example of its Disadvantage
A situation I encountered in which optimistic bias lessened the accuracy of a judgment I made occurred while driving a car. I believed that I would never be in an accident because of my excellent driving skills. However, as I was at a stop light, someone rear-ended my car. Although the accident was not my fault, it defeated my optimistically biased idea that I would never be in an accident because I am a good driver.
It is evident that my own instances of optimistic bias, whether to my advantage or disadvantage, follow the cultural norm for the southern United States. Like most of the Western students studied, I consistently predict positive outcomes for myself. Optimistic bias, though sometimes inaccurate, is an essential function of how Western cultures face challenges in life.
Chang, C. C., Sanna, L. J., & Asakawa, K. (2001). Cultural variations in optimistic and pessimistic bias: Do Easterners really expect the worst and Westerners really expect the best when predicting future life events? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81 (3), 476-491.
Heine, S. J. & Lehman, D. R. (1995). Cultural Variation in Unrealistic Optimism: Does the West Feel More Invulnerable Than the East? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68 (4), 595-607.