, Volume 25, Issue 6, pp 755-773

Intellectual ability, rationality, and intuitiveness as predictors of warranted and unwarranted optimism for future life events

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The social calculations involved in assessing one's life chances were examined. Undergraduates estimated the probability that they would experience positive and negative life events and the probability that others would experience the same events. Participants evinced considerable bias in their estimates, expressing the belief that they would experience more desirable and fewer undesirable events than others. Important individual differences in these biases were found. Particularly regarding academic/career events, those with superior intellectual ability expressed more bias than their peers. Surprisingly, even students in the bottom third of intellectual ability displayed considerable academic/career bias. Cognitive style was also linked with the extensiveness of biased perceptions: individuals high in Need for Cognition were more optimistically biased than their peers in the academic/career domain. Also, relative to participants whose cognitive style was more rational, those who relied on intuitive processing believed that both positive and negative events were more likely to be experienced, by both the self and others. Finally, students who eventually dropped out of college were lower in Need for Cognition and had more unrealistic expectations regarding both positive and negative life events than students who remained in school. These findings are discussed in terms of general adolescent phenomena, such as individuation, identity, and the personal fable, and cognitive factors, such as the knowledge of base rate information and the availability heuristic.

Received Ph.D. in 1989 from West Virginia University.
Research interests include contextual influences on adolescence reasoning and problem solving, the impact of motivational and context-sensitive goals on reasoning and problem solving, and the interactions among adolescent critical thinking, self-serving biases, and identity information.
Received M. A. in Clinical Psychology from Western Carolina University. Currently enrolled in Penn State University Ph.D. Program in Counseling Psychology. Research interests include intellectual development and assessment, personality assessment, and work place adjustment.