Unrealistic Optimism

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As a professional* that is trying to understand the conception of every concept, and working with decision-makers for over 15 years for software requirements, I noticed an emerging mental pattern. All decision-makers are highly exposed to the risk of unrealistic optimism concerning their decisions and the results of their decisions, especially for the sophisticated areas. How do I know it? It’s not easy to admit, but I am one of them as well!

There are a number of various positive illusions defined. Let me elaborate on a few types below:

  1. The illusion of control, which is an exaggerated belief in one’s capacity to control independent, external events (e.g., Langer & Roth, 1975);
  2. The better than the average effect (sometimes also called the superiority illusion), which is the perception of oneself, one’s past behavior, and one’s lasting features as more positive than is the case (“I am more talented than the average person”) (e.g., Brown, 2012);
  3. Unrealistic optimism, where people tend to rate negative events as less likely to happen to themselves than to the average person and positive events as more likely to happen to themselves than to the average person” (Harris and Hahn, 2011, p. 135).

These positive illusions created by our optimism bias follow us everywhere, every day:

  • People know that every marriage is exposed to the risk of ending with a divorce, but they assume the risk is lower for themselves.
  • The likelihood of developing a serious health condition is usually underestimated.
  • Smokers tend to think that they are less likely to contract lung cancer than other smokers.
  • When college professors are asked whether they do above-average work, 94% say they do. They cannot all be right about that.
  • People believe that they are less likely to be a victim of a crime.

So, these were common examples from our daily lives. Let’s get more specific and shift the focus to our sector: mobile advertising. What do you think are the professional positive illusions of mobile advertisers?

Let’s look at some industry statistics.

The IAB predicted that ad fraud will cost an estimated $50b to advertisers’ marketing budgets by 2025.  An approximate of $1 out of every $3 is being lost to ad fraud currently.

The above-mentioned statement is a fact. It is the reality that is acknowledged by all marketing professionals as “the elephant in the room” when it comes to mobile advertising. Yet, most of them think their partners and/or marketing team is not exposed to it (optimism bias).

Once we all accept that we underestimate the “elephant in the room,” we can start thinking of how to avoid falling into the optimism bias:

  • Acknowledge the danger.
  • Acknowledge the risk.
  • If you have doubts, take a pragmatic perspective to prove yourself and your team how ad fraud is NOT affecting you or soon why it will NOT affect you as well.
  • Take a cynic perspective towards third party vendors. Unfortunately, the metrics that are being presented may not be not real (because the fraudsters can manipulate any analytic tool).
  • Trust a professional, who is focused on the subject but also question their expertise in a comparative manner.

Positive illusions are part of our human nature, but it is up to us to recognize it and use it to our advantage.

Please note that I have no official psychology background, so the outcome delivered in this article is not scientific; it is subject to the judgement of a professional (me) that is focusing on psychology. 

*Selin Ezer, Co-founder and Chief Analytics Officer of App Samurai, worked at different leading companies from Turkey’s one of the biggest energy companies and Turkish Military Software Corporation to Oracle and Netvent, the very first company in Turkey to offer the entire Inbound Marketing procedure. 






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