(1)The Optimism Bias (2)Cherchez les Femmes


The Optimism Bias
By Tali Sharot
Saturday, May. 28, 2011
Those rose-colored glasses? We may be born with them. Why our brains tilt toward the positive
・・・in spite of all the negative

We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures. We watch our backs, weigh the odds, pack an umbrella. But both neuroscience and social science suggest that we are more optimistic than realistic. On average, we expect things to turn out better than they wind up being. People hugely underestimate their chances of getting divorced, losing their job or being diagnosed with cancer; expect their children to be extraordinarily gifted; envision themselves achieving more than their peers; and overestimate their likely life span (sometimes by 20 years or more).

The belief that the future will be much better than the past and present is known as the optimism bias. It abides in every race, region and socioeconomic bracket. Schoolchildren playing when-I-grow-up are rampant optimists, but so are grownups: a 2005 study found that adults over 60 are just as likely to see the glass half full as young adults.

You might expect optimism to erode under the tide of news about violent conflicts, high unemployment, tornadoes and floods and all the threats and failures that shape human life. Collectively we can grow pessimistic — about the direction of our country or the ability of our leaders to improve education and reduce crime. But private optimism, about our personal future, remains incredibly resilient. A survey conducted in 2007 found that while 70% thought families in general were less successful than in their parents' day, 76% of respondents were optimistic about the future of their own family.

Overly positive assumptions can lead to disastrous miscalculations — make us less likely to get health checkups, apply sunscreen or open a savings account, and more likely to bet the farm on a bad investment. But the bias also protects and inspires us: it keeps us moving forward rather than to the nearest high-rise ledge. Without optimism, our ancestors might never have ventured far from their tribes and we might all be cave dwellers, still huddled together and dreaming of light and heat.

To make progress, we need to be able to imagine alternative realities — better ones — and we need to believe that we can achieve them. Such faith helps motivate us to pursue our goals. Optimists in general work longer hours and tend to earn more. Economists at Duke University found that optimists even save more. And although they are not less likely to divorce, they are more likely to remarry — an act that is, as Samuel Johnson wrote, the triumph of hope over experience.

Even if that better future is often an illusion, optimism has clear benefits in the present. Hope keeps our minds at ease, lowers stress and improves physical health. Researchers studying heart-disease patients found that optimists were more likely than nonoptimistic patients to take vitamins, eat low-fat diets and exercise, thereby reducing their overall coronary risk. A study of cancer patients revealed that pessimistic patients under the age of 60 were more likely to die within eight months than nonpessimistic patients of the same initial health, status and age.

In fact, a growing body of scientific evidence points to the conclusion that optimism may be hardwired by evolution into the human brain. The science of optimism, once scorned as an intellectually suspect province of pep rallies and smiley faces, is opening a new window on the workings of human consciousness. What it shows could fuel a revolution in psychology, as the field comes to grips with accumulating evidence that our brains aren't just stamped by the past. They are constantly being shaped by the future.

< Hardwired for Hope? >
I would have liked to tell you that my work on optimism grew out of a keen interest in the positive side of human nature. The reality is that I stumbled onto the brain's innate optimism by accident. After living through Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City, I had set out to investigate people's memories of the terrorist attacks. I was intrigued by the fact that people felt their memories were as accurate as a videotape, while often they were filled with errors. A survey conducted around the country showed that 11 months after the attacks, individuals' recollections of their experience that day were consistent with their initial accounts (given in September 2011) only 63% of the time. They were also poor at remembering details of the event, such as the names of the airline carriers. Where did these mistakes in memory come from?

Scientists who study memory proposed an intriguing answer: memories are susceptible to inaccuracies partly because the neural system responsible for remembering episodes from our past might not have evolved for memory alone. Rather, the core function of the memory system could in fact be to imagine the future — to enable us to prepare for what has yet to come. The system is not designed to perfectly replay past events, the researchers claimed. It is designed to flexibly construct future scenarios in our minds. As a result, memory also ends up being a reconstructive process, and occasionally, details are deleted and others inserted.

To test this, I decided to record the brain activity of volunteers while they imagined future events — not events on the scale of 9/11, but events in their everyday lives — and compare those results with the pattern I observed when the same individuals recalled past events. But something unexpected occurred. Once people started imagining the future, even the most banal life events seemed to take a dramatic turn for the better. Mundane scenes brightened with upbeat details as if polished by a Hollywood script doctor. You might think that imagining a future haircut would be pretty dull. Not at all. Here is what one of my participants pictured: "I was getting my hair cut to donate to Locks of Love [a charity that fashions wigs for young cancer patients]. It had taken me years to grow it out, and my friends were all there to help celebrate. We went to my favorite hair place in Brooklyn and then went to lunch at our favorite restaurant."

I asked another participant to imagine a plane ride. "I imagined the takeoff — my favorite! — and then the eight-hour-long nap in between and then finally landing in Krakow and clapping for the pilot for providing the safe voyage," she responded. No tarmac delays, no screaming babies. The world, only a year or two into the future, was a wonderful place to live in.

If all our participants insisted on thinking positively when it came to what lay in store for them personally, what does that tell us about how our brains are wired? Is the human tendency for optimism a consequence of the architecture of our brains?

< The Human Time Machine >
To think positively about our prospects, we must first be able to imagine ourselves in the future. Optimism starts with what may be the most extraordinary of human talents: mental time travel, the ability to move back and forth through time and space in one's mind. Although most of us take this ability for granted, our capacity to envision a different time and place is in fact critical to our survival.

It is easy to see why cognitive time travel was naturally selected for over the course of evolution. It allows us to plan ahead, to save food and resources for times of scarcity and to endure hard work in anticipation of a future reward. It also lets us forecast how our current behavior may influence future generations. If we were not able to picture the world in a hundred years or more, would we be concerned with global warming? Would we attempt to live healthily? Would we have children?

While mental time travel has clear survival advantages, conscious foresight came to humans at an enormous price — the understanding that somewhere in the future, death awaits. Ajit Varki, a biologist at the University of California, San Diego, argues that the awareness of mortality on its own would have led evolution to a dead end. The despair would have interfered with our daily function, bringing the activities needed for survival to a stop. The only way conscious mental time travel could have arisen over the course of evolution is if it emerged together with irrational optimism. Knowledge of death had to emerge side by side with the persistent ability to picture a bright future.

The capacity to envision the future relies partly on the hippocampus, a brain structure that is crucial to memory. Patients with damage to their hippocampus are unable to recollect the past, but they are also unable to construct detailed images of future scenarios. They appear to be stuck in time. The rest of us constantly move back and forth in time; we might think of a conversation we had with our spouse yesterday and then immediately of our dinner plans for later tonight.

But the brain doesn't travel in time in a random fashion. It tends to engage in specific types of thoughts. We consider how well our kids will do in life, how we will obtain that sought-after job, afford that house on the hill and find perfect love. We imagine our team winning the crucial game, look forward to an enjoyable night on the town or picture a winning streak at the blackjack table. We also worry about losing loved ones, failing at our job or dying in a terrible plane crash — but research shows that most of us spend less time mulling over negative outcomes than we do over positive ones. When we do contemplate defeat and heartache, we tend to focus on how these can be avoided.

Findings from a study I conducted a few years ago with prominent neuroscientist Elizabeth Phelps suggest that directing our thoughts of the future toward the positive is a result of our frontal cortex's communicating with subcortical regions deep in our brain. The frontal cortex, a large area behind the forehead, is the most recently evolved part of the brain. It is larger in humans than in other primates and is critical for many complex human functions such as language and goal setting.

Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, we recorded brain activity in volunteers as they imagined specific events that might occur to them in the future. Some of the events that I asked them to imagine were desirable (a great date or winning a large sum of money), and some were undesirable (losing a wallet, ending a romantic relationship). The volunteers reported that their images of sought-after events were richer and more vivid than those of unwanted events.

This matched the enhanced activity we observed in two critical regions of the brain: the amygdala, a small structure deep in the brain that is central to the processing of emotion, and the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), an area of the frontal cortex that modulates emotion and motivation. The rACC acts like a traffic conductor, enhancing the flow of positive emotions and associations. The more optimistic a person was, the higher the activity in these regions was while imagining positive future events (relative to negative ones) and the stronger the connectivity between the two structures.

The findings were particularly fascinating because these precise regions — the amygdala and the rACC — show abnormal activity in depressed individuals. While healthy people expect the future to be slightly better than it ends up being, people with severe depression tend to be pessimistically biased: they expect things to be worse than they end up being. People with mild depression are relatively accurate when predicting future events. They see the world as it is. In other words, in the absence of a neural mechanism that generates unrealistic optimism, it is possible all humans would be mildly depressed.

< Can Optimism Change Reality? >
The problem with pessimistic expectations, such as those of the clinically depressed, is that they have the power to alter the future; negative expectations shape outcomes in a negative way. How do expectations change reality?

To answer this question, my colleague, cognitive neuroscientist Sara Bengtsson, devised an experiment in which she manipulated positive and negative expectations of students while their brains were scanned and tested their performance on cognitive tasks. To induce expectations of success, she primed college students with words such as smart, intelligent and clever just before asking them to perform a test. To induce expectations of failure, she primed them with words like stupid and ignorant. The students performed better after being primed with an affirmative message.

Examining the brain-imaging data, Bengtsson found that the students' brains responded differently to the mistakes they made depending on whether they were primed with the word clever or the word stupid. When the mistake followed positive words, she observed enhanced activity in the anterior medial part of the prefrontal cortex (a region that is involved in self-reflection and recollection). However, when the participants were primed with the word stupid, there was no heightened activity after a wrong answer. It appears that after being primed with the word stupid, the brain expected to do poorly and did not show signs of surprise or conflict when it made an error.

A brain that doesn't expect good results lacks a signal telling it, "Take notice — wrong answer!" These brains will fail to learn from their mistakes and are less likely to improve over time. Expectations become self-fulfilling by altering our performance and actions, which ultimately affects what happens in the future. Often, however, expectations simply transform the way we perceive the world without altering reality itself. Let me give you an example. While writing these lines, my friend calls. He is at Heathrow Airport waiting to get on a plane to Austria for a skiing holiday. His plane has been delayed for three hours already, because of snowstorms at his destination. "I guess this is both a good and bad thing," he says. Waiting at the airport is not pleasant, but he quickly concludes that snow today means better skiing conditions tomorrow. His brain works to match the unexpected misfortune of being stuck at the airport to its eager anticipation of a fun getaway.

A canceled flight is hardly tragic, but even when the incidents that befall us are the type of horrific events we never expected to encounter, we automatically seek evidence confirming that our misfortune is a blessing in disguise. No, we did not anticipate losing our job, being ill or getting a divorce, but when these incidents occur, we search for the upside. These experiences mature us, we think. They may lead to more fulfilling jobs and stable relationships in the future. Interpreting a misfortune in this way allows us to conclude that our sunny expectations were correct after all — things did work out for the best.

< Silver Linings >
How do we find the silver lining in storm clouds? To answer that, my colleagues — renowned neuroscientist Ray Dolan and neurologist Tamara Shiner — and I instructed volunteers in the fMRI scanner to visualize a range of medical conditions, from broken bones to Alzheimer's, and rate how bad they imagined these conditions to be. Then we asked them: If you had to endure one of the following, which would you rather have — a broken leg or a broken arm? Heartburn or asthma? Finally, they rated all the conditions again. Minutes after choosing one particular illness out of many, the volunteers suddenly found that the chosen illness was less intimidating. A broken leg, for example, may have been thought of as "terrible" before choosing it over some other malady. However, after choosing it, the subject would find a silver lining: "With a broken leg, I will be able to lie in bed watching TV, guilt-free."

In our study, we also found that people perceived adverse events more positively if they had experienced them in the past. Recording brain activity while these reappraisals took place revealed that highlighting the positive within the negative involves, once again, a tête-à-tête between the frontal cortex and subcortical regions processing emotional value. While contemplating a mishap, like a broken leg, activity in the rACC modulated signals in a region called the striatum that conveyed the good and bad of the event in question — biasing activity in a positive direction.

It seems that our brain possesses the philosopher's stone that enables us to turn lead into gold and helps us bounce back to normal levels of well-being. It is wired to place high value on the events we encounter and put faith in its own decisions. This is true not only when forced to choose between two adverse options (such as selecting between two courses of medical treatment) but also when we are selecting between desirable alternatives. Imagine you need to pick between two equally attractive job offers. Making a decision may be a tiring, difficult ordeal, but once you make up your mind, something miraculous happens. Suddenly — if you are like most people — you view the chosen offer as better than you did before and conclude that the other option was not that great after all. According to social psychologist Leon Festinger, we re-evaluate the options postchoice to reduce the tension that arises from making a difficult decision between equally desirable options.

In a brain-imaging study I conducted with Ray Dolan and Benedetto De Martino in 2009, we asked subjects to imagine going on vacation to 80 different destinations and rate how happy they thought they would be in each place. We then asked them to select one destination from two choices that they had rated exactly the same. Would you choose Paris over Brazil? Finally, we asked them to imagine and rate all the destinations again. Seconds after picking between two destinations, people rated their selected destination higher than before and rated the discarded choice lower than before.

The brain-imaging data revealed that these changes were happening in the caudate nucleus, a cluster of nerve cells that is part of the striatum. The caudate has been shown to process rewards and signal their expectation. If we believe we are about to be given a paycheck or eat a scrumptious chocolate cake, the caudate acts as an announcer broadcasting to other parts of the brain, "Be ready for something good." After we receive the reward, the value is quickly updated. If there is a bonus in the paycheck, this higher value will be reflected in striatal activity. If the cake is disappointing, the decreased value will be tracked so that next time our expectations will be lower.

In our experiment, after a decision was made between two destinations, the caudate nucleus rapidly updated its signal. Before choosing, it might signal "thinking of something great" while imagining both Greece and Thailand. But after choosing Greece, it now broadcast "thinking of something remarkable!" for Greece and merely "thinking of something good" for Thailand.

True, sometimes we regret our decisions; our choices can turn out to be disappointing. But on balance, when you make a decision — even if it is a hypothetical choice — you will value it more and expect it to bring you pleasure.

This affirmation of our decisions helps us derive heightened pleasure from choices that might actually be neutral. Without this, our lives might well be filled with second-guessing. Have we done the right thing? Should we change our mind? We would find ourselves stuck, overcome by indecision and unable to move forward.

< The Puzzle of Optimism >
While the past few years have seen important advances in the neuroscience of optimism, one enduring puzzle remained. How is it that people maintain this rosy bias even when information challenging our upbeat forecasts is so readily available? Only recently have we been able to decipher this mystery, by scanning the brains of people as they process both positive and negative information about the future. The findings are striking: when people learn, their neurons faithfully encode desirable information that can enhance optimism but fail at incorporating unexpectedly undesirable information. When we hear a success story like Mark Zuckerberg's, our brains take note of the possibility that we too may become immensely rich one day. But hearing that the odds of divorce are almost 1 in 2 tends not to make us think that our own marriages may be destined to fail.

Why would our brains be wired in this way? It is tempting to speculate that optimism was selected by evolution precisely because, on balance, positive expectations enhance the odds of survival. Research findings that optimists live longer and are healthier, plus the fact that most humans display optimistic biases — and emerging data that optimism is linked to specific genes — all strongly support this hypothesis. Yet optimism is also irrational and can lead to unwanted outcomes. The question then is, How can we remain hopeful — benefiting from the fruits of optimism — while at the same time guarding ourselves from its pitfalls?

I believe knowledge is key. We are not born with an innate understanding of our biases. The brain's illusions have to be identified by careful scientific observation and controlled experiments and then communicated to the rest of us. Once we are made aware of our optimistic illusions, we can act to protect ourselves. The good news is that awareness rarely shatters the illusion. The glass remains half full. It is possible, then, to strike a balance, to believe we will stay healthy, but get medical insurance anyway; to be certain the sun will shine, but grab an umbrella on our way out — just in case.

< これはバラ色のメガネのなせる業? >








< 希望に向うのは生まれつき? >
私の楽観主義の研究は、人間の積極面への非常な興味から出発したのだと私は言いたかった。しかし現実は、脳が生まれもった楽観主義に偶然に出くわしたことが始まりだった。ニューヨーク市で起きた2001.9.11を経験して、テロ攻撃に対する人々の記憶を調査し始めた。人々は自分の記憶がビデオテープのように正確だと思っているが、彼らの記憶はしばしば間違いだらけだという事実に興味を覚えた。全国的に実施された調査で、テロ攻撃後11か月経って、その日の経験に関する個々人の記憶が (2011年9月時点の当初の説明と)63 %の確率で一致していただけだった。例えば飛行機の名前のような事件の詳細もあまり記憶していなかった。記憶の中のこのような間違いはどこで生じるのだろうか。


これをテストするために、9.11事件のような規模ではなく、日常生活での出来事について、治験参加者が未来を想像している間の脳活動を記録し、同じ個人が過去の出来事を振り返った時に観察されたパターンを比較してみた。ところが予想外のことが起きた。いったん人々が未来のことを想像し始めると、ごく平凡な日常的生活も劇的な展開をみせ、良い方へと向かうように思えた。日常風景が、まるでハリウッドの校正者が推敲したように、陽気な出来事が細やかに彩られて輝きを放つ。これから髪の毛を切ることの想像などつまらないと思うかも知れない。決してそんなことはない。これは被験者の一人の想像だ。「私は髪を切って、『Locks of Love:愛の巻き毛(若い癌患者にためにカツラを作っている慈善団体)』に寄付しようとしていました。髪がここまで伸びるのに何年もかかったし、友人たちがみんなで立ち会ってくれて、祝ってくれました。ブルックリンの大好きなヘアサロンに言って、それからみんなでお気に入りのレストランに行って食事をしたのです」



< 人間タイムマシン >









< 楽観主義は現実を変えることができるだろうか >





< きっといいことが起こるはず! >








< 楽観主義の不思議 >



Cherchez les FemmesーBy Judith Warner
Thursday, May. 26, 2011

Has the women's movement in France finally caught up?

The resentment — indeed, the rage — was a long time in coming. Yet no one in France was quite prepared for the wave of female anger that crested and broke in the wake of former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest in New York City for the alleged sexual assault and attempted rape of a Sofitel hotel housekeeper. "It's a turning point," says Françoise Gaspard, a prominent sociologist and former politician who has for decades specialized in the study of gender and power in France. "People are saying things that were unthinkable 10 or 15 years ago. This is completely new."

The cause of insult wasn't Strauss-Kahn's purported actions; as everyone in France these days hastens to say, the former Finance Minister and, until very recently, leading contender for the 2012 French presidential elections hasn't been proved guilty. It was, rather, the way many key figures in France's intellectual and political elite instantly, reflexively converged to protect him — and, very often, to minimize, cast doubt upon or even ignore entirely the plight of the immigrant single mother from Guinea who'd accused him. "We don't know what happened in New York last Saturday, but we do know what happened in France in the last week," begins a petition drafted by a consortium of feminist groups that has gathered 25,000 signatures. The petition goes on to denounce not just sexual violence against women but also the "daily wave of misogynous commentary coming from public figures," the "anthology of sexist remarks" on the French airwaves and the Internet, and the "lightning-fast rise to the surface of sexist and reactionary reflexes" among the leading French figures defending Strauss-Kahn. A makeshift anti-sexism rally thrown together in a mere 24 hours drew big crowds, mostly young women, many bearing signs with catchy slogans such as "Men play, women pay" and "we are all chambermaids."

The show of anger forced the political and media elite to quickly change their tone. At the beginning of the DSK news cycle, his prominent defenders were protesting that he had been victimized by the U.S. justice system and media. By the time Strauss-Kahn made it out of Rikers Island and began his odyssey to find a place to call home while under house arrest in New York City, they were vigorously backtracking. Two of Strauss-Kahn's most influential friends apologized for their insensitivity: the journalist Jean-François Kahn, for having said the Sofitel affair was just a matter of "lifting a maid's skirt," and Jack Lang, a former government minister and longtime professed friend of women, who said, "It's not like anybody died." Ségolène Royal, the 2007 Socialist candidate for President, first expressed sympathy and "respect" for "the man going through this ordeal" but not a word about the alleged victim; eventually, watching the winds change, she signed the anti-sexism petition. (So, too, did First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.)

Feminist commentary — some written by men — started to appear in France's mainstream publications. The rally, which 10 years earlier would have provoked snickering coverage in the national press, was given respectful, if somewhat muted, attention. Women reporters started sharing their own stories of harassment and even assault by powerful men. Soon there was talk that feminist issues — things like sexual violence, unequal pay and the ubiquity of "everyday sexism," as a popular website founded to gather tales of random daily indignities put it — could figure prominently in the 2012 presidential campaign. Roselyne Bachelot, France's Minister of Solidarity and Social Cohesion, invited feminist leaders to meet with her to talk about how the government could help move their cause forward.

For French women, this could be the end of an era in which talking too forcefully about inequities between men and women has been rejected as too old-school, too angry, too American. French feminists have struggled for decades to walk the line between their goal of female empowerment and the cultural mandate of seduction, to stake out a position of Gallic exceptionalism that would essentially allow women to have it both ways. "At some point," says Chris Blache, a spokeswoman for the feminist group La Barbe, "women came to feel that life wasn't too bad, many things had been gained since the 1970s and we didn't need to fight anymore."

But French women never really were successful in having their cake and eating it too. Generous family policies aimed at both promoting fertility and allowing women to balance work and family have had the perverse effect of reinforcing age-old gender stereotypes, as employers proved unwilling to hire women of childbearing age on the grounds that they'd take too many costly and disruptive maternity leaves. The blurring of the line between flirtation and predation led to a pervasive culture of "sacred machismo," says Olivia Cattan, founder of the feminist organization Paroles de Femmes. "The limits have not been defined between libertinage and harassment in France." And the shared fealty to a "grownup" respect for private life, the code of silence surrounding the sexual indiscretions of powerful public figures in particular, created a climate that strongly discouraged women from speaking out if they were harmed.

According to sociologist Gaspard, the current upsurge of feminist activism has been driven in large part by a new generation: young women (and perhaps some young men too) raised on the promise of equality who have grown angry when reality hasn't met their expectations. And this new blood has revitalized a movement that in many ways, ever since the 1949 publication of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, has struggled to move beyond the theoretical, intellectual sphere and unite women in a sense of shared experience. "It's now practical. They're dealing with immediate, and insupportable, sexism," Gaspard says.

French women have plenty of practical matters to be angry about. A much heralded 2001 "parity" law that required political parties to offer voters equal numbers of male and female candidates has had little effect at the highest levels of elected office as parties have time and again preferred to pay fines rather than run sufficient numbers of women. Repeated legislative efforts to promote pay equality have borne little fruit. After a period of some improvement in the 1970s and 1980s, wage inequality between men and women has persisted or even worsened over the past 15 years; women's earnings are still, on average, about 20% lower than men's. The trend toward workplace flexibility of the past 10 years has tended to push women disproportionately into unstable and low-paid part-time positions.

"Finally, women found out that nothing had changed," Blache says. "Appearances have changed, but life, work, men not helping out more in the household — none of this actually had. We felt we had made gains and those gains were gone or going. Things were starting to boil over." Whether women's issues remain front and center remains to be seen, but what's already clear is that the dialogue about gender relations in France has been forever altered.

< フランスのフェミニズム運動はやっと国際水準になったのか >






しかし、フランスの女性たちは、決して本当の意味で両立できているわけではなかった。出産の奨励および家庭と職場の両立を目指した寛大な家族政策は、旧弊な紋切り型の性差別の復活という思わぬ悪影響をもたらした。出産適齢期の女性を現場に雇用すれば、経費がかかり、仕事を中断する出産休暇をあまりに長期間取得するので、雇用主は女性の雇用を敬遠するのは明らかだった。男女のおふざけと性的嫌がらせの境が曖昧なことから、「男らしさを崇拝」する土壌が根を張ることになった、フェミニスト組織「女性の声(Paroles de Femmes)」の創立者オリビア・カッタンはそう言う。「フランスでは、性的自由主義とセクハラの境界は、明確に定義されていません」そして、個人生活に対する「大人としての」尊重という約束事、特に有力な人物の性的無分別に対する暗黙の了解は、女性が被害にあった時に抗議することを強力に押しつぶす文化的風土を作った。




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