Abandoning Unrealistic Optimism: Performance Estimates and the Temporal Proximity of Self-Relevant Feedback

by James A. Shepperd, Judith A Ouellette, and Julie K. Fernandez

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Volume 70, Issue 4, pp. 844-855) 1996
  • Psychology

Although evidence for unrealistic optimism is considerable, there is reason to believe that individuals will abandon their optimism and may even become pessimistic in anticipation of self-relevant feedback. The authors propose and provide preliminary test of a model of the temporal transition from optimism to accuracy to pessimism in outcome predictions. In Study 1, college sophomores, juniors, and seniors estimated their likely salary at their first full-time job after graduation. Only seniors became less optimistic as graduation approached. In Study 2, students estimated their exam score a month before the exam, then again several times after completing the exam yet prior to receiving feedback. As the proximity of feedback neared, students abandoned their optimistic forecast. Study 2 showed that, in anticipation of self-relevant feedback, participants with low self-esteem lowered their performance estimates more readily than did those with high self-esteem.