Positive Illusions and Well-Being Revisited: Separating Fact From Fiction

Authors: Shelley E. Taylor, University of California, Los Angeles; Jonathon D. Brown, University of Washington

Publication: Psychological Bulletin

Year: 1994

Focus Area: Self illusion, Mental health, Decision making

Relevance: People have an occasionally problematic tendency to see themselves in an excessively positive light, which may prompt them to take greater risks, fail to appreciation their vulnerability to fraud, and other dangerous actions.  Combating this tendency may have negative repercussions because, in moderation, an unrealistic self-assessment may in fact be necessary for good mental health.

Summary: This article discusses the theory that positive self illusions contribute to mental well-being, and refutes criticisms of the theory raised by other researchers (Colvin & Block).

  • Taylor & Brown’s 1998 article demonstrated that people tend to hold unrealistically positive views of themselves, their control over events, and their future.  As opposed to previous assumptions that mental health depends upon accurate perception, these positive illusions were found to actually improve psychological well-being.
  • While positive illusions that are too unrealistic can be detrimental to mental health (such as believing that one can make the sun rise, for example), optimistic self-assessments may be both empowering and necessary for healthy action.
  • As it systematically counters the critiques of Colvin & Block, the article serves as an extensive resource for further research on the subject of positive illusion and mental health.

Author Abstract: In 1988, we published an article that challenged the notion that accurate perceptions of self and the world are essential for mental health (Taylor & Brown, 1988). We argued instead that people’s perceptions in these domains are positively biased and that these positive illusions promote psychological well-being. In the current article, we review our theoretical model, correct certain misconceptions in its empirical application, and address the criticisms made by Colvin and Block.

Full Article