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date: 19 November 2017

Summary and Keywords

When individuals are asked whether they will someday own their own home, enjoy a productive career, or develop a myriad of diseases, many are optimistic. Generally, they think they will experience more good than bad outcomes in life and they view themselves as more likely than similar others to experience the good things and less likely than others to experience the bad things. In the area of health behavior and communication, there are three primary types of optimism that have been defined and operationalized: (1) Dispositional optimism is the generalized positive expectancy that one will experience good outcomes. (2) Comparative optimism refers to the belief that one is either more likely than others to experience positive events or less likely than others to experience negative events. (3) Unrealistic optimism refers to an underestimation of one’s actual risk of experiencing some negative event. Although the three types of optimism may be correlated, their associations may be modest. Also, unlike dispositional optimism, which is an individual difference, comparative and unrealistic optimism are often risk perceptions about specific events and therefore can be defined as accurate or inaccurate. For this reason, the latter two types of optimism have sometimes been labeled the optimistic bias. Research on all three varieties of optimism affords opportunities to understand how optimism influences information processing in a health message or one’s behavioral intentions following the message.

Keywords: unrealistic optimism, comparative optimism, trait optimism, health communication, health behaviors, defensive biases, health and risk message design and processing

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