1.103, No.


Copyright 1988 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0033-2909/88/$00.75

Illusion and Well-Being: A Social Psychological Perspective on Mental Health
Shelley E. Taylor University of California, Los Angeles Jonathon D. Brown Southern Methodist University

Many prominent theorists have argued that accurate perceptions of the self, the world, and the future are essential for mental health. Yet considerable research evidence suggests that overly positive selfevaluations, exaggerated perceptions of control or mastery, and unrealistic optimism are characteristic of normal human thought. Moreover, these illusions appear to promote other criteria of mental health, including the ability to care about others, the ability to be happy or contented, and the ability to engage in productive and creative work. These strategies may succeed, in large part, because both the social world and cognitive-processing mechanisms impose niters on incoming information that distort it in a positive direction; negative information may be isolated and represented in as unthreatening a manner as possible. These positive illusions may be especially useful when an individual receives negative feedback or is otherwise threatened and may be especially adaptive under these circumstances.

Decades of psychological wisdom have established contact with reality as a hallmark of mental health. In this view, the well-adjusted person is thought to engage in accurate reality testing, whereas the individual whose vision is clouded by illusion is regarded as vulnerable to, if not already a victim of, mental illness. Despite its plausibility, this viewpoint is increasingly difficult to maintain (cf. Lazarus, 1983). A substantial amount of research testifies to the prevalence of illusion in normal human cognition (see Fiske& Taylor, 1984;Greenwald, 1980; Nisbett & Ross, 1980; Sackeim, 1983; Taylor, 1983). Moreover, these illusions often involve central aspects of the self and the environment and, therefore, cannot be dismissed as inconsequential. In this article, we review research suggesting that certain illusions may be adaptive for mental health and well-being. In particular, we examine evidence that a set of interrelated positive illusions—namely, unrealistically positive self-evaluations, exaggerated perceptions of control or mastery, and unrealistic optimism—can serve a wide variety of cognitive, affective, and social functions. We also attempt to resolve the following para-

dox: How can positive misperceptions of one's self and the environment be adaptive when accurate information processing seems to be essential for learning and successful functioning in the world? Our primary goal is to weave a theoretical context for thinking about mental health. A secondary goal is to create an integrative framework for a voluminous literature in social cognition concerning perceptions of the self and the environment.

Mental Health as Contact With Reality
Throughout psychological history, a variety of views of mental health have been proffered, some idiosyncratic and others widely shared. Within this theoretical diversity, a dominant position has maintained that the psychologically healthy person is one who maintains close contact with reality. For example, in her distillation of the dominant views of mental health at the time, Jahoda (1958) noted that the majority of theories considered contact with reality to be a critical component of mental health. This theme is prominent in the writings of Allport (1943), Erikson (1950), Menninger (1930), and Fromm (1955), among others. For example, concerning his self-actualized indi-

Preparation of this article was supported by National Science Foundation Grant BNS 83-08524, National Cancer Institute Grant CA 36409, and Research Scientist Development Award MH 00311 from the National Institute of Mental Health to Shelley E. Taylor. Jonathon D. Brown was supported by a University of California, Los Angeles, Chancellor's fellowship and by a Southern Methodist University new-faculty seed grant. We owe a great deal to a number of individuals who commented on earlier drafts: Nancy Cantor, Edward Emery, Susan Fiske, Tony Greenwald, Connie Hammen, Darrin Lehman, Chuck McClintock, Dick Nisbett, Lee Ross, Bill Swann, Joanne Wood, and two anonymous reviewers. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Shelley E. Taylor, University of California, Department of Psychology, 405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90024-1563.

viduals, Maslow (1950) wrote, Our healthy individuals find it possible to accept themselves and their own nature without chagrin or complaint.. . . They can accept their own human nature with all of its discrepancies from the ideal image without feeling real concern. It would convey the wrong impression to say that they are self-satisfied. What we must rather say is that they can take the frailties and sins, weaknesses and evils of human nature in the same unquestioning spirit that one takes or accepts the characteristics of nature, (p. 54) On the basis of her review, Jahoda concluded, The perception of reality is called mentally healthy when what the individual sees corresponds to what is actually there. (1958, p. 6) Mentally healthy perception means a process of viewing the world


implies a more general. 1967).194 SHELLEY E. (1953. and unrealistic optimism) do indeed seem to be pervasive. although it is not the only theoretical perspective on the mentally healthy person. people typically distort such feedback in a self-serving manner. this paradigm can provide estimates of an individual's accuracy as well as information about the direction (positive or negative) of any distortions. judgments of covariation. that might be caused by careless oversight or other temporary negligences (cf. better adjusted. At this point. harmless. 1980). To summarize. the view that psychological health depends on accurate perceptions of reality has been widely promulgated and widely shared in the literature on mental health. 1977). 1980) incorporated the assumptions of the naive scientist as normative guidelines with which actual behavior could be compared. after reviewing a large number of theories of the healthy personality. 75). arbitrary. Illusion is denned as a perception that represents what is perceived in a way different from the way it is in reality. errors. Rather. that most people believe that their future is more positive than that of most other people or more positive than objective baserate data can support. In particular. Schulz. bias. 1973). and other tasks of social inference (see Fiske & Taylor. 1984. "The ability to perceive reality as it 'really is' is fundamental to effective functioning. BROWN so that one is able to take in matters one wishes were different without distorting them to fit these wishes. how happy or well-adjusted one is) do not have these same objective standards of comparison. Funder. TAYLOR AND JONATHON D. and three that consistently emerge can be labeled unrealistically positive views of the self. the position that the mentally healthy person perceives reality accurately has been put forth in major works by Haan (1977) and Vaillant (1977). 1980. Kelley. respectively. These theorists maintained that the social perceiver monitors and interacts with the world like a naive scientist (see Fischhoff. and more skilled on a variety of tasks than most other people. 662). and unrealistic optimism. information processing is full of incomplete data gathering. 1980.g. evidence for illusions comes from experimental work that manipulates feedback provided to a person (e.. Social Cognition. Illusion. Since Jahoda's report. a note concerning terminology is required. For example. In some cases. for discussions). we exchange the terms error and bias for a broader term. The implications of these conclusions for cognitive functioning have been widely debated and discussed (see Fiske & Taylor. Nisbett & Ross. "Instead of a naive scientist entering the environment in search of the truth. shortcuts. There is. Nisbett & Ross. p. or both that assumes a particular direction or shape. however. If it can be shown. Nisbett & Ross. Theories of the causal attribution process (e. at least to some degree. enduring. and it has also been incorporated into textbooks on adjustment (e. At present. 1984. 1982. to some extent. Many researchers have studied biases in the processing of self-relevant information and have given their similar phenomena different names. An illusion is a false mental image or conception which may be a misinterpretation of a real appearance or may be something imagined. illusion. Reality. For example. Nisbett & Ross. This point puts us on the perilous brink of philosophical debate concerning whether one can ever know reality.. exaggerated perceptions of personal control. the methodologies of social psychology spare us this frustrating conundrum by providing operational definitions. 1987). and reaches generally good. There are several reasons for this change Positive Illusions and Social Cognition Any taxonomy of illusions is. combines it in some logical. 1976. the person gathers data in an unbiased manner. and biases (see Fiske & Taylor. prior expectations and self-serving interpretations weigh heavily into the social judgment process. the illusions to be considered (unrealistically positive self-evaluations.g. then evidence suggestive of illusions about the future is provided. however. Jourard & Landsman. We now turn to the evidence for these illusions. for reviews). It may be pleasing. enduring pattern of error. Those familiar with the research evidence will recognize that much of the evidence for these positive illusions comes from experimental studies and from research with college students. According to this view. As the evidence will show. we find the rather unflattering picture of a charlatan trying to make the data come out in a manner most advantageous to his or her already-held theories" (p. In such cases. considerable overlap in findings. 1980. that the social perceiver's actual inferential work and decision making looked little like these normative models. We will have more to say about potential biases in the experimental literature later in this article. exaggerated perceptions of control. and Illusion Early theorists in social cognition adopted a view of the person's information-processing capabilities that is quite similar to the viewpoint just described. it is important to note that all three of the . Fiske and Taylor (1984) noted. Fiske & Taylor.g. whether the person succeeded or failed on a task) and measures the individual's perceptions or recall of that feedback. such perceptions provide evidence suggestive of an illusion. It rapidly became evident. identifiable fashion. and systematic. As will be seen. 1984.g. if most people believe that they are happier. 88). In summarizing this work. It is considered one of the two preconditions to the development of [the healthy personality]" (p. accurate inferences and decisions. Jourard and Landsman (1980) noted. But these findings also seem to have implications for the understanding of mental health. however. More subjective self-evaluations (e. 1980. in contrast. Illusions about the future are operationally difficult to establish because no one knows what the future will bring. The definition of an illusion as a belief that departs from reality presupposes an objective grasp of reality.. 1984. p. then. healthy individual perceive reality accurately if his or her perceptions are so evidently biased and self-serving? Before considering this issue.. an illusion is implied if the majority of people report that they are more (or less) likely than the majority of people to hold a particular belief. Fortunately. inasmuch as they appear to contradict a dominant conception of its attributes: How can the normal. Greenwald. 349) in terminology. or even useful (Stein. Error and bias imply short-term mistakes and distortions. prediction (see Kahneman & Tversky.

1978. Olinger. 1984). Lewicki. 1983). helping to maintain a sense of personal control (Bulman & Wortman. thereby virtually assuring a favorable self-other com- Despite a general pattern indicating that people accept more responsibility for positive outcomes than for negative outcomes. Sears. Moreover. 1983). 1986) and abilities (Campbell. JanoffBulman. individuals saw themselves in more flattering terms than they were seen in by others. positive views of the self can be regarded as evidence for their unrealistic and illusory nature. & Ellsworth. positive personality information is efficiently processed and easily recalled. 1979. a corresponding tendency exists for individuals to see their intimates as better than average. 1979.. and Barton (1980) had observers watch college-student subjects complete a group-interaction task. & Manderlink. Taylor & Koivumaki. In other words. Taylor & Koivumaki. The results showed that self-ratings were significantly more positive than the observers' ratings. 1979. Mirels. 1979. 1986. People also tend to use their positive qualities when appraising others.Zuckerman. whereas negative personality information is poorly processed and difficult to recall (Kuiper & Derry. 1986). 1985.g. 1977. These data might appear to be at odds with a general pattern of self-serving attributions. they tend to be dismissed as inconsequential. 1982.g. and. but they may not be. the perception of self that most individuals hold is not as well-balanced as traditional models of mental health suggest. 1986). 1980. the things that people are not proficient at are perceived as less important than the things that they are proficient at (e. 1964) and tend to recall their task performance as more positive than it actually was (Crary. This effect has been documented for a wide range of traits (Brown. Hastorf. 1 . First. 195 parison (Lewicki. Mischel. Ross & Fletcher. Observers then rated each subject along a number of personality dimensions (e. available. 1986). Rosenberg. When asked to indicate how accurately positive and negative personality adjectives describe the self. the perception of self that most individuals hold is heavily weighted toward the positive end of the scale. One's poor abilities tend to be perceived as common. these effects at the individual level also occur at the group level: Research using the minimal intergroup paradigm has established that even under the most minimal of social conditions. Because it is logically impossible for most people to be better than the average person. Additionally. Chaplin. Harackiewicz. Brown.ILLUSION AND WELL-BEING illusions to be discussed have been documented in noncollege populations as well. 1986. Bulman & Wortman. although research demonstrates a general person-positivity bias (Schneider. 1984). close friends and relatives receive more credit for success and less blame for failure (Hall & Taylor. 1986). there exists a pervasive tendency to see the self as better than others. In contrast to this portrayal. Research on the selfserving bias in causal attribution documents that most individuals are more likely to attribute positive than negative outcomes to the self (see Bradley. 1985). compared with others. 1985. and assertive). Lichtman. for a review). Evidence of this nature is. 1985. for reviews). 1980. 1983). far from being balanced between the positive and the negative. Most individuals also show poorer recall for information related to failure than to success (Silverman. these highly skewed. 1986. 1975. In sum. 1984. Marks. Taylor. Self-attribution does not imply personal responsibility or self-blame (Shaver & Drown. G. Lewinsohn. evidence indicates that most individuals possess a very positive view of the self (see Greenwald. 1976. 1986. this imbalance does not in and of itself provide evidence that such views are unrealistic or illusory. 1977. 1977. One's friends are evaluated more positively and less negatively than the average person (Brown. Of course. a pervasive tendency exists for individuals to see their own group as better than other groups (see Tajfel & Turner. 1984). Subjects also rated themselves on each attribute. A second source of evidence pertaining to the illusory quality of positive self-perceptions comes from investigations in which self-ratings have been compared with judgments made by observers. friendly. 1976). normal individuals appear to be very cognizant of their strengths and assets and considerably less aware of their weaknesses and faults. for most individuals. Schlenker & Miller. Although the tendency to see the self as better than others is attenuated somewhat when the others being evaluated are close friends or relatives (Brown. Furthermore. Campbell. 1981)..1 Even when negative aspects of the self are acknowledged. some have suggested that selfattribution may enable people to begin to achieve mastery over an adverse event. for a review). MacDonald. In sum. And people perceive that they have improved on abilities that are important to them even when their performance has remained unchanged (Conway & Ross.. Miller & Ross. Kuiper & MacDonald. individuals are inclined to appraise themselves and their close associates in far more positive and less negative terms than they appraise most other people.g. Kuiper. some evidence suggests that people may exaggerate their own causal role in the occurrence of highly negative events (e. 1977. 1986) and therefore may not produce any blow to self-esteem. & Shaw. Evidence that these flattering self-portrayals are illusory comes from studies in which researchers have found that (a) most individuals see themselves as better than the average person and (b) most individuals see Unrealistically Positive Views of the Self As indicated earlier. Individuals judge positive personality attributes to be more descriptive of themselves than of the average person but see negative personality attributes as less descriptive of themselves than of the average person (Alicke. Rather than being attentive to both the favorable and unfavorable aspects of self. Larwood & Whittaker. Moreover. Sansone. & Wood. however. 1985. Green & Gross. a traditional conception of mental health asserts that the well-adjusted individual possesses a view of the self that includes an awareness and acceptance of both the positive and negative aspects of self. Thus. Brown. 1977). 1976). individuals even believe that their driving ability is superior to others' (Svenson. but one's favored abilities are seen as rare and distinctive (Campbell. warm.Taylot. normal subjects judged positive traits to be overwhelmingly more characteristic of self than negative attributes (Alicke. 1966). 1979). And people give others less credit for success and more blame for failure than they ascribe to themselves (Forsyth & Schlenker. 1982.

Heider. Terrell. 1958). 1942). suggesting that people are not engaging in deliberate (time-consuming) fabrication. 1985). Research suggests that most people believe that the present is better than the past and that the future will be even better (Brickman. & One might argue that overly positive self-descriptions reflect public posturing rather than privately held beliefs..g. Hendrick. it appears to be not the welladjusted individual but the individual who experiences subjective distress who is more likely to process self-relevant information in a relatively unbiased and balanced fashion. relative to nondepressed people. TAYLOR AND JONATHON D. as with excessively positive views of the self. such as competition.196 SHELLEY E. Brown. Similarly. 1982). S. Greenwald and Breckler (1985) reviewed evidence indicating that (a) self-evaluations are at least as favorable under private conditions as they are under public conditions. 1977. or both are more balanced in self-perceptions (see Coyne & Gotlieb.Benassi&Mahler.Tetlock&Manstead. it is decidedly more in evidence for the self.. thus. Research evidence. however. 1986). Optimism pervades people's thinking about the future (Tiger. and (d) self-enhancing judgments are acted on.. 1985). Is there any group in which this illusion of control appears to be absent? Mildly and severely depressed individuals appear to be less vulnerable to the illusion of control (Abramson & Alloy. Terrell. 1980. & Viscusi. however. themselves as better than others see them. have maintained that a sense of personal control is integral to the self-concept and self-esteem.2 Does there exist a group of individuals that is accepting of both the good and the bad aspects of themselves as many views of mental health maintain the normal person is? Suggestive evidence indicates that individuals who are low in self-esteem. people infer that they have greater control if they personally throw dice than if someone else does it for them (Fleming & Darley. that such optimism is actually unrealistic? Although the future may well hold more subjectively positive events than negative ones for most individuals. and involvement. Kuiper. 1982.. 1986). & Johnson.g. 1978). In a series of studies adopting gambling formats. 1975) found that people often act as if they have control in situations that are actually determined by chance. for a review). 1975). Kuiper & MacDonald. (c) display greater congruence between self-evaluations and evaluations of others (e.. These findings are inconsistent with the notion that realistic and evenhanded perceptions of self are characteristic of mental health. & Janoff-Bulman. & Pasahow. 1985. 1977. 1959). are introduced into chance situations. including social psychologists (e. Several factors. Ruehlman. 1968). Langer. When skill cues are introduced into a chance-related task or when outcomes occur as predicted. see also Shrauger & Terbovic. 1978. 1978). (b) favorable self-evaluations occur even when strong constraints to be honest are present. in press).g. Similarly. Coates. and psychoanalytic theorists (Fenichel. Tesser& Moore. For these as well as other reasons. M. (b) show greater evenhandedness in their attributions of responsibility for valenced outcomes (e. Greenberg & Alloy. 1979). Kuiper & Derry. 1986. The evidence indicates that although the warm and generous vision of the future that individuals entertain extends to all people. suggests that people's beliefs in personal control are sometimes greater than can be justified. Weitz. 1985.g. college students reported more than four times as many positive as negative possibilities (Markus & Nurius. Realistic perceptions of personal control thus appear to be more characteristic of individuals in a depressed affective state than individuals in a nondepressed affective state. (c) favorable self-referent judgments are made very rapidly. Watson &Clark. Lewinsohn et al. Golin. This is not to suggest that depressed people or those in whom a negative mood has been induced are always more accurate than nondepressed subjects in their estimates of personal control (e. Rizley. Is there any evidence. Colin... moderately depressed. Alloy. West. they often overestimate the degree to which they were instrumental in bringing it about (see Miller & Ross. 1981.. 1979. For example. Langer & Roth. were ones over which they could exert some control (see also Goffman. overly positive views of the self appear to be illusory. Campbell & Fairey. White. These individuals tend to (a) recall positive and negative self-relevant information with equal frequency (e. 1967). 1976). Many theorists. 1981. developmental psychologists (e. People estimate the likelihood that they Illusions of Control A second domain in which most individuals' perceptions appear to be less than realistic concerns beliefs about personal control over environmental occurrences. 198l. 1985)but that the preponderance of evidence lies in this direction. For these reasons. 1984. When manipulations suggestive of skill.g. 1945. 1975). choice. 1982. 1983. 1986. When people expect to produce a certain outcome and the outcome then occurs. deCharms. Abramson. 1980).g. Unrealistic Optimism Research suggests that most people are future oriented. depressed individuals provide more accurate estimates of their degree of personal control than do nondepressed people. In one survey (Gonzales & Zimbardo. however. the majority of respondents rated themselves as oriented toward the present and the future (57%) or primarily toward the future (33%) rather than toward the present only (9%) or toward the past (1%). evidence for the illusory nature of optimism comes from studies comparing judgments of self with judgments of others. Abramson. When asked what they thought was possible for them in the future. Longer and her associates (Langer. a consensus is emerging at the theoretical level that individuals do not offer flattering self-evaluations merely as a means of managing a public impression of competency (see Schlenker. and (d) offer self-appraisals that coincide more closely with appraisals by objective observers (e. 1 . For example. people behave as if the situations were determined by skill and. Questionnaires that survey Americans about the future have found the majority to be hopeful and confident that things can only improve (Free & Cantril. learning theorists (Bandura. 1975. familiarity. for reviews). a large literature on covariation estimation indicates that people substantially overestimate their degree of control over heavily chance-determined events (see Crocker. art-lie against the plausibility of a strict self-presentational interpretation of this phenomenon. 1968). In short.g. those in whom a negative mood has been induced show more realistic perceptions of personal control (Alloy. &Rosoff. BROWN Drost.

see Sackeim.g. 1979). scores on the Self-Deception Questionnaire (Sackeim & Our. 1938. Relative to judgments concerning others. 1955. Thus. the extreme optimism that individuals display appears to be illusory.. Mental-Health-Promoting Aspects of Illusion It is one thing to say that positive illusions about the self. Brown. including having an automobile accident (Robertson.. Jahoda. 1951).. Marks. most people seem to be saying. "Do you ever feel guilty?"). 1951). 1985). 1980). 1953). personal control.. Lund. 1980). Both children and adults overestimate the degree to which they will do well on future tasks (e. . Pyszczynski. as noted earlier. clinical. W. Diener. ego. environmental mastery in work and social relationships. or having a gifted child. creativity. 131) distilled very similar criteria: positive self-regard. Additional support for the argument that accurate selfknowledge may be negatively related to psychological health comes from research on the correlates of self-deception. 1980). have been found to be inversely related to depression (Roth & Ingram. although in some cases such tendencies may reflect pessimism on the part of depressed people. develop. Solomon. autonomy. their capacity to control important events in their lives.. first. Jourard and Landsman (1980. subjects' predictions of what will occur correspond closely to what they would like to see happen or to what is socially desirable rather than to what is objectively likely (Cantril. In effect. Additionally. Unrealistic optimism has even been documented for events that are entirely chance determined (Irwin. It is another to identify how these illusions contribute to mental health. 1975. at least.g.ILLUSION AND WELL-BEING will experience a wide variety of pleasant events. 1986) or depressed (Kuiper. & Roth. researchers have found that private self-consciousness is positively related to depression (Ingram & Smith. One dilemma that immediately arises is that.e. 1958. having trouble finding a job (Weinstein. these findings appear inconsistent with the notion that accurate selfknowledge is the hallmark of mental health. what is left? The ability to be happy or. 1965. the ability to do productive Summary To summarize. 1987). Together. In contrast to the extremely positive view of the future displayed by normal individuals. and the future exist and are true for normal people. a measure of the degree to which individuals typically deny psychologically threatening but universal feelings and behaviors (e. being a crime victim (Perloff&Fetzer. has been one central criterion of mental health and well-being adopted by a variety of researchers and theorists (e. Private self-consciousness refers to the degree to which a person characteristically attends to the private. the balance of psychic forces of the id. the ability to grow. experimental research also suggests that under some circumstances focusing attention on the self may engender negative emotional states (Duval & Wicklund. then. these individuals fail to exhibit the self-enhancing tendency to see positive events as more likely for self and negative events as less likely for self (Alloy & Ahrens. personality. Pietromonaco & Markus. or becoming ill (Perloff & Fetzer. 1985. 1944. Langer & Roth. individuals who are moderately depressed or low in self-esteem consistently display an absence of such enhancing illusions. Smith. 1977). People scoring high on this measure have been shown to possess more detailed and accurate self-knowledge than those who are less attentive to this aspect of the self (Franzoi.g. 1986). covert aspects of the self (e. and integration (i. 1953. Marks. and a view of the future that maintains that their future will be far better than the average person's. 1975). 19 8 5. we must subtract this particular one. and self-actualize.. "The future will be great. and superego). 1980). getting a good salary. R. MacDonald. 1983. & Kelleway. as higher than those of their peers (Weinstein.g. Furthermore. "I'm always trying to figure myself out"). 1984. not low. Crandall. openness to new ideas and to people. 1975. when asked their chances of experiencing a wide variety of negative events. most people believe that they are less likely than their peers to experience such negative events. Specifically. Smith & Greenberg. 1985. and their future. mildly depressed people and those with low self-esteem appear to entertain more balanced assessments of their likely future circumstances (see Ruehlman et al. Conversely. relatively contented. 1985. 1981. Jourard & Landsman. and developmental psychology documents that normal individuals possess unrealistically positive views of themselves. In contrast to this portrayal. see E. 1987. 1960. one first needs to establish criteria of mental health and then determine whether the consequences of the preceding positive illusions fit those criteria. an exaggerated belief in their ability to control their environment. Consider. The fact that individuals who are most apt to engage in self-deception also score lowest on measures of psychopathology further suggests that accurate selfknowledge may not be a sine qua non of mental health. 1984. Ingram. W. In establishing criteria for mental health. In her landmark work. Other evidence also suggests that individuals hold unrealistically positive views of the future. 1930. Scheier. Irwin. and they are more likely to provide such overestimates the more personally important the task is (Frank. it appears to be individuals who are high. To do so. traditional conceptions of mental health assert that well-adjusted individuals possess relatively accurate perceptions of themselves. for a review). Although the relation between these variables is correlational. many formal definitions of mental health incorporate accurate self-perceptions as one criterion (see Jahoda. When we do so. especially for me. 1972). 197 Two other literatures also suggest that accurate self-knowledge may not always be positively related to psychological wellbeing. R. Pruitt & Hoge. 1978). Jahoda (1958) identified five additional criteria of positive mental health: positive attitudes toward the self. research on the correlates of private selfconsciousness as assessed by the Self-Consciousness Scale (Fenigstein." Because not everyone's future can be rosier than their peers'. 1983. & Greenberg. Menninger. Over a wide variety of tasks. Reviewing both older and more recent formulations. & Buss. p. for a review). Turner. a great deal of research in social. the ability to care about others and for the natural world. such as liking their first job. in subjective well-being who evince more biased perceptions of the future. Sherman. 1958 for reviews). & Derry. McGuire. 1983). Holt. 1953.

positive affect appears to facilitate the association of multiple cues with encoded information. 1984. 1977. they enhance motivation. 1987). the ability to care for and about others. TAYLOR AND JONATHON D. show exaggerated beliefs in their ability to control what goes on around them (Abramson & Alloy. positive affect can facilitate the use of efficient. Some evidence that illusions directly influence mood has. 1978). Oreenberg & Alloy. be intellectual benefits to self-enhancement. 1978). 1976). Optimism may also improve social functioning.. 1971. Illusions may also affect the ability to care for and about others indirectly by means of their capacity to create positive mood. and the ubiquitous realistic self-perceptions. Smith. rapid problem-solving strategies (Isen & Means. who report that they have a lot of control in their lives. that these variables may be reciprocally related (Brown. 1982).. it is unclear. Happiness or Contentment Most people report being happy most of the time. and evidence suggests that posi- . Underwood. Kuiper & MacDonald. 1984). In surveys of mood. Whether unrealistic optimism or exaggerated beliefs in personal control affect intellectual functioning directly is unknown. however. MacFarland and Ross (1982) tested whether such a self-serving pattern promotes positive mood states. 1982. 189. The evidence for direct effects of positive illusions on intellective functioning is sparse. that is. Griffith. Shalker. 1986). Facilitation of intellectual functioning. Isen. Positive affect is an effective retrieval cue. Coke. 1982.. subjects led to attribute success to the self and failure to the task reported more positive mood after success and less negative mood after failure. 1976). Veitch & Griffitt. & Taliaferro. Summarizing the research evidence. 1984).g. These investigators had subjects perform a laboratory task in which they manipulated success and failure. One study found that people with high self-esteem and an optimistic view of the future were better able to cope with loneliness at college than were individuals who displayed an absence of these tendencies (Cutrona. and positive work. The association between illusions and positive mood appears to be a consistent one. Ability to Care for Others The ability to care for others has been considered an important criterion of mental health.198 SHELLEY E. Lewinsohn et al. Positive illusions may also facilitate some aspects of intellectual functioning by means of positive mood.. however. & Baumann. In line with the hypothesis that the self-serving attributional bias causally influences positive mood states. then. however. thus creating a more cognitively complex mental environment for making judgments and decisions (Isen & Daubman. Cialdini. such that people are able to recall self-relevant information well. 1970. see also E. More recently. Felson. the common elements in these criteria that we examine in the next section are happiness or contentment. Brown & Taylor. Greenwald (1980) suggested that there are cognitive benefits to an egocentrically organized memory: The self as a well-known. 1978).g. There may. 1985. 1979. we will not review it here. and performance. in press). Isen (1984) concluded. densely organized system allows for rapid retrieval of information and extensive links among elements in the system. 1981). see Shrauger & Terbovic. and are more likely to be unrealistically optimistic (Alloy & Ahrens. 1979. especially for positive information (e. First. Thus. to initiate conversations with others (Batson et al. Mood measures were then gathered. Research indicates that when a positive (as opposed to negative or neutral) mood has been induced.. although this possibility has not been tested directly.. 1978). 1986). Positive illusions have been tied to reports of happiness. 1967. and who believe that the future will bring them happiness are more likely than people who lack these perceptions to indicate that they are happy at the present (Freedman.. This relation may also be facilitated indirectly by means of positive mood. the ability to love. & Rosenhan. 1983. happy people have higher opinions of themselves (e. Batson. we noted earlier that individuals are more inclined to attribute success than failure to the self.Rizley. Kenrick. Golin et al. and to reduce the use of contentious strategies and increase joint benefit in bargaining situations (Carnevale & Isen. Capacity for Creative. 1978. 1979. BROWN tive illusions are associated with certain aspects of social bonding. S. 1973).. 1970). second. As alluded to earlier. "Positive affect is associated with increased sociability and benevolence" (p. Chard.g. Productive Work Positive illusions may promote the capacity for creative. to express liking for others and positive evaluations of people in general (Gouaux. 1980. Clark. Golin et al. 60% believe that they are happier than most people (Freedman. been reported. Because positive self-regard has already been considered in our section on exaggeratedly positive self-perceptions. Moore. when the perceptions of happy people are compared with those of people who are relatively more distressed. Thus. these illusions may facilitate intellectually creative functioning itself. people are generally more likely to help others (e. 1983). whereas other subjects were led to attribute success (failure) to the task. Kuiper et al. but the evidence is largely correlational rather than causal. Gibbons (1986) found evidence that another self-enhancing illusion— the tendency to see the self as better off than others—also improves mood states among depressed people. and the capacity for productive and creative work. 1981. Memory tends to be organized egocentrically. Isen. 1982. highly complex. & Karp. Overall. there is evidence associating positive illusions with certain aspects of social bonding. Diener. research with children indicates that high self-evaluations are linked to both perceived and actual popularity among peers (Bohrnstedt & Felson. whether self-enhancement biases directly facilitate egocentrically organized memory. are more likely to evince self-serving causal attributions (Kuiper. M. For example. although these investigations do not rule out the possibility that positive mood may also cause illusions. productive work in two ways. Some subjects were led to attribute success (failure) to the self. People who have high selfesteem and self-confidence. Kuiper & Derry. For example. Whereas most respondents believe that others are average in happiness. Beck. As yet. 70% to 80% of respondents report that they are moderately to very happy. they do provide evidence that illusions promote happiness. persistence.

e. In fact. more effective performance. 1964. in this case. Manipulated positive mood enhances perceived probability of success and the tendency to attribute success to personal stable factors (Brown. more daily planning. 1985. then. & Raskoff. 1976). Aristotle. mastery-oriented children chose to focus on ways to overcome the failure. Diener. perseverance. and researchers in learned helplessness have also noted the centrality of generalized deficits of motivation in this syndrome (Seligman. Overall. 4 We have assumed that the relation between illusions and persistence generally results in positive outcomes. Following failure. They may help people try harder in situations with objectively poor probabilities of success. Their performance also increases more in response to increases in incentives than does that of people in a negative mood (Weinstein. 1979). research evidence indicates that self-enhancement. perhaps because it facilitates seeing the negative consequences attached to any action. and elevated mood increases involvement in activity (E. as compared to low. Motivation and positive mood appear to influence each other reciprocally: Involvement in activity elevates mood. Is the impact of positive affect on mental functioning always positive? Some research suggests that positive affect may lead people to use simple.g. 1975). 1982). Evidence relating beliefs in personal control to motivation. and performance comes from a variety of sources. People with high self-esteem have higher estimations of their ability for future performance and higher predictions of future performance. 1977.g. more goal seeking. in turn. 1987. People with high. and were less daunted by failure. greater success. Baumeister. McFarlin. Burger (1985) found that individuals high in the desire for control responded more vigorously to a challenging task and persisted longer. Baumeister & Tice.. 1966. and ultimately. By way of perpetuating the cycle of positive mood-perseverance-success. 1985. A chief value of these illusions may be that they can create selffulfilling prophecies. more effective performance.e. greater persistence. persistence. and optimism appear to foster motivation. Greenwald. 1984). Daubman. Overall. perseverance.ILLUSION AND WELL-BEING affect facilitates unusual and diverse associations that may produce more creative problem solving (Isen. Motivation. as when an individual persists endlessly at a task that is truly intractable (see Janoff-Bulman & Brickman. C. maintained that happiness is a by-product of human activity (Freedman. and unrealistic optimism can be associated with higher motivation. 1978).. a belief in personal control. were more likely to see success as indicative of ability. & Nowicki. the links between being happy and being active are so wellestablished that one of our earliest psychologists. with attributions of success to unstable factors (Brown. Dweck & Licht. problem-solving strategies that may be inappropriate for complex decision-making tasks (Isen et al. They also had higher (and. Wright & Mischel.. Evidence for the impact of self-enhancing perceptions on motivation. 1968. These perceptions then feed back into enhanced motivation. More recent work (Isen et al. McFarlin. Negative mood. 1984) suggests that such nonproductive perseverance may be most prevalent among people with high self-esteem (i. Mertz. see also Feather. and performance. Diener and Dweck (1978. and with less self-reward (Mischel et al. positive affect appears to have a largely positive impact on intellectual functioning. persistence. 1979). Positive conceptions of the self are associated with working harder and longer on tasks (Felson. Several lines of research suggest that optimism is associated with enhanced motivation and performance. more pragmatic action. and less fatalism. higher motivation to work. more realistic) levels of aspiration and higher expectations for their performance than did individuals low in desire for control. Mischel. 1969).. Weiner. other studies (e. Thus. & Robinson.. Manipulated negative mood is associated with lower expectations for future success. produces more effective performance and a greater likelihood of goal attainment (Bandura. 1980). rapid. Indirect evidence for the relation of optimism to effort. depresses activity level. 1982). 1982). and ultimately. goal attainment comes from studies of depression and studies of learned helplessness. the nature of the relation between unproductive persistence and self-enhancing illusions is unclear and needs further empirical clarification. This pessimism may then reduce motivation and consequent activity toward a goal. 1984). and performance comes from several sources. 1980) found differences between mastery-oriented and helpless children in their interpretations of success and failure. Hamilton. . Isen. Perseverance may sometimes be maladaptive. persistence at tasks. 1985). I. mastery-oriented children (i. 1987).3 and it is also prominent in learned helplessness (Seligman. Although some evidence (e. Even when their performance was equivalent to that of helpless children. exaggerated beliefs in control. 1985) suggest that people with high self-esteem may be most apt to desist from persisting endlessly at an unsolvable task when they are given the opportunity to do so. 1968. those with a sense of control over the task) remembered their success better. 1968. 1975). Coates. 1981). 1973. 1984). Gonzales and Zimbardo (1985) found that a self-reported orientation toward the future was associated with self-reports of higher income. 1984). even when it is equivalent to that of low-self-esteem people (Shrauger & Terbovic. Beck (1967) maintained that pessimism is one of the central attributes of depression. I.4 3 Positive mood provides a potential secondary route whereby illusions may foster motivation and persistence. One of the chief symptoms of depression is inactivity. 1977. those who are most apt to display self-enhancing illusions). High expectations of success prompt people to work longer and harder on tasks 199 than do low expectations of success (Atkinson. 1985). Johnson. Wright & Mischel. 1982). Research on motivation has demonstrated repeatedly that beliefs in personal efficacy (a concept akin to control) are associated with higher motivation and more efforts to succeed (Bandura. and ultimately. Self-enhancing perceptions. 1980). Individual-difference research on mastery also indicates the value of believing that one has control. & Tice. Thus. persistence. however. 1978). self-esteem also evaluate their performance more positively (Vasta & Brockner. 1985. although some failure is inevitable. see also Brunstein & Olbrich. they seemed not to recognize that they had failed (C.. then. suggests that positive affect does not reduce cognitive capacity or lead to lazy or inefficient problem solving. Diener & Dweck. even when prior performance on the task would counterindicate those positive estimations (McFarlin & Blascovich. expected successes in the future. Baumeister. & Blascovich. however.. ultimately these illusions will pay off more often than will lack of persistence (cf. people in a naturally occurring or experimentally induced positive mood are also more likely to believe that they have succeeded and to reward themselves accordingly (Mischel. In a series of studies.

The ability to care for others appears to be associated with positive illusions in that illusions are associated with certain aspects of social bonding. falsely. namely. a useful point of departure in a reconciliation is to examine the potential flaws in the datagathering methods of the relevant clinical and social psychological literatures in deriving their respective portraits. and the capacity for creative. caring for and about others. then. On the one hand. for reviews). Moreover. in experimental circumstances examining positive biases. Taking these respective flaws of the social and clinical portraits into account. we have a sharply different portrait from cognitive and social psychology of the normal individual as one who evidences substantial biases in these perceptions. a belief in their ability to control what goes on around them. Those criteria include happiness or contentment. To the extent that manipulated information and feedback are similar to the information and feedback that people normally encounter in their chosen environments. 1984. The importance . Hastie. Individuals may merely assimilate unfamiliar or unexpected data to their prior beliefs with relatively little processing at all. what kind of reconciliation can we develop? First. 1981. Another interpretation. however. it is also evident that when errors and biases do occur. we have an established view of mental health coming largely from the fields of psychiatry and clinical psychology that stresses the importance of accurate perceptions of the self. a view of mental health derived solely from social cognition research may be skewed to reveal an overemphasis on illusions. and the future. If the errors and biases identified by social cognition dominated all inferential tasks. They also typically have high self-esteem. The capacity for creative. How might an understanding of mental health be influenced when abnormality is an implicit yardstick? Contrasts between pathological and normal functioning are likely to loom large. these experimentally documented errors and biases are often interpreted as evidence for flaws in human information-processing strategies. Accommodating Illusions to Reality The previous analysis presents some theoretical and practical dilemmas. The nature of these circumstances is suggested both by social cognition research itself and by research on victims of misfortune. Reconciling Contradictory Views of Mental Health In addressing the first dilemma. Many psychologists and psychiatrists who have written about mental health devote their research and clinical endeavors to individuals whose perceptions are disturbed in a variety of ways. is at least as tenable. then it follows that errors and biases will be most obvious when feedback from the real world is negative. can be functional in the face of realistic and often contradictory evidence from the environment. and their future are positive or that their information-processing strategies bias them to interpret information in this way. But just as a strict clinical view of mental health may result in an overemphasis on rationality. positive illusions appear to be common and. to be error prone in a positive direction. personal efficacy. TAYLOR AND JONATHON D. their efficacy. it is important to consider how positive illusions can be maintained and. Historically. If prior beliefs include generally positive views of the self. They consistently stray in a positive direction. Although research does not systematically address the role of each of the three positive illusions with respect to each criterion of mental health. the implications of any errors and biases in perception and cognition are unclear. one might expect to see perceptions similar to those that people usually develop in their normal world. and persistence that are clearly fostered by a positive sense of self. On the other hand. Happy people are more likely to have positive conceptions of themselves. The key to an integration of the two views of mental health may. Thus. research reveals that positive biases are more apparent as threats to the self increase (Greenwald. a positive one. Yet social and cognitive research on the prevalence and usefulness of schemata makes clear that people rely heavily on their prior expectations for processing incoming data (see Fiske & Taylor. Much research in social cognition extricates individuals from the normal settings in which they interact for the purpose of providing them with experimentally manipulated information and feedback. the healthy individual may be portrayed as one who maintains very close contact with reality. On the one hand. they are not evenly distributed. the evidence is suggestive in all cases. one's circumstances. and optimism about the future. a certain degree of contact with reality seems to be essential to accomplish the tasks of everyday life. More subtle deviations in perceptions and cognitions from objectively accurate standards may well go unnoticed. these biases fall in a predictable direction. this evidence flies in the face of much clinical wisdom as well as commonsense notions that people must monitor reality accurately to survive. In fact. productive work. BROWN To summarize. and by the increased motivation. toward the aggrandizement of the self and the world in which one must function. However. productive work is fostered both by enhanced intellectual functioning. more important. we return to the criteria of mental health offered earlier and relate them systematically to positive illusions. 1981. to the extent that the information and feedback that are provided experimentally deviate from the usual information and feedback that an individual might encounter in the real world. it would be difficult to understand how the human organism could leam. 1981). more important. Taylor & Crocker. clinical constructions of mental health have been dominated by therapy with and research on abnormal people. a sense of control. and optimism. Within social cognition. which may be an outgrowth of positive illusions. How are we to reconcile these viewpoints? A second dilemma concerns the functional value of illusions. then interpretation of any negative feedback may appear. On the other hand.200 Summary and Implications SHELLEY E. activity level. and the future. appear to be associated with positive outcomes that promote good mental health. Because an attribute of many psychologically disturbed people is an inability to monitor reality effectively. If one assumes either that people's prior beliefs about themselves. lie in understanding those circumstances under which positive illusions about the self and the world may be most obvious and useful. On the other hand.

Tesser. To anticipate the forthcoming argument. More to the point. Tetlock. circumstances that might be expected to produce depression or lack of motivation. In this way. The construction of social relationships with friends and intimates also facilitates positive self-impressions. 1981a. For example. The Denial of Death. 1983) reveal that when people expect that others will disagree with them. 1984. Significantly. he or she is highly likely to discontinue interaction with the person. and similar in background characteristics (Eckland. optimism. At present. 201 A variety of social norms and strategies of social interaction conspire to protect the individual from the harsher side of reality.ILLUSION AND WELL-BEING of information may also alter the prevalence of positive biases. how people negotiate the world successfully and learn from experience without the full benefit of negative feedback. Parducci. the self-serving causal attribution bias is more likely to occur for behaviors that are important to an individual than for personally trivial events (e. 1985) and the belief that one could personally prevent the cancer from coming back. personal control. such as cancer patients. M. 1983. People implicitly signal how they want to be treated by adopting physical identity cues (such as clothing or buttons that express political beliefs). research with victims of misfortune.. 1984). second. 1968. Social construction of social feedback. and potential erosions in one's view of the future. Phillipson. 1968. 1939. they offered as possible superordinate mechanisms feelings of personal control. similar in attitudes. & Smith. & Wood. that is. Taylor. In a recent review of the literature on personality factors as buffers of the stress-disorder relation. thus rendering it ambiguous. when it is given. individuals can achieve the best of both worlds: They can value their friends for exceptional qualities irrelevant to the self (thereby enhancing the self by means of association) without detracting from their own positive self-evaluations. & Evenbeck. 1965. and by using methods of communication that preferentially solicit self-confirming feedback (Swann. Tesser & Campbell. rather than communicate the negative feedback (Darley & Fazio. and the future may be especially apparent and adaptive under circumstances of adversity. even in the face of a likely recurrence. self-efficacy or self-esteem. Tesser and his associates (lesser. 1982) and are more likely to seek social feedback if they believe it will confirm their self-conceptions (Swann & Read. ensuring that they both give and receive predominantly positive feedback (see also Goffman. 1980. Levy. 1984. 1983) have suggested that people select friends whose abilities on tasks central to the self are somewhat inferior to their own but whose abilities on tasks less relevant to the self are the same or superior. people collectively subscribe to norms. 1984. 1976. they were associated with successful psychological adjustment to the cancer. Under these circumstances. . suggests that illusions about the self. Evaluators who must communicate negative feedback may mute it or put it in euphemistic terms (GofFman. Lichtman. Hill. J. & Peplau. they often moderate their opinions in advance to be less extreme and thereby more similar to what they perceive to be the attitudes of their audience. This selection process reinforces one's beliefs that one's attitudes and attributes are correct. Greenwald (1981) found self-enhancing biases to be more in evidence as the importance of the situation increased. Tesser & Rosen. and the future are in evidence in dealing with these potentially tragic events (Taylor. If a person holds negative beliefs about another. 1955). for example. Implicitly. McGuire. 1976. 1973.g. Becker (1973) made a related point in his Pulitzer-Prizewinning book. we must consider. Richardson. The interaction strategies that people adopt in social situations also tend to confirm preexisting self-conceptions (see Swann. In this last category. Spuhler. Tesser & Paulhus. 1986). People select friends and intimates who are relatively similar to themselves on physical resources. Management of Negative Feedback If illusions are particularly functional when a person encounters negative feedback. it is overwhelmingly likely to be positive (Blumberg. 1980. Because most individuals have favorable self-views. first. we maintain that a series of social and cognitive filters make information disproportionately positive and that the negative information that escapes these filters is represented in as unthreatening a manner as possible. one's efficacy. and effort or ability. although people are generally unwilling to give feedback (Blumberg. & Solomon. 1987). Herman. 1972. Swann. 1972). 1980). people actively seek to disconfirm others' mistaken impressions of them (Swann & Hill. they suggested that this may occur because only a few superordinate mechanisms actually buffer stress successfully. Pyszczynski. 1968. efficacious actor behaving in a world with a generally positive future may be especially helpful in overcoming setbacks. see Swann. the evidence is strongest for sense of personal control. 1975). 1955). for reviews). To summarize then. & Lichtman. Rubin. people create positive. Their analysis provides converging evidence for the potential functional value of self-enhancement. one's control. were quite common (Taylor. 1983). 1983) and tend to be unhappy in relationships in which they are not seen as they want to be seen (Laing. such strategies lead to a tendency to seek feedback primarily when feedback is likely to be positive (Brown. Consistent with both points. 1981b). the belief in one's self as a competent. & Lee. 1985. a study of patients with breast cancer found that the belief that one's coping abilities were extraordinary (Wood. 1966). Campbell. studies of opinion moderation (Cialdini. and their concomitants under conditions of threat. potential blows to self-esteem. by taking on social roles that communicate their self-perceptions (such as mother or radical). optimism. Cohen and Edwards (in press) found only scattered evidence for stress-buffering effects across a large number of personality variables. for a review). then. Miller. Greenberg. 1983). Research indicates that. Snyder & Swann. 1976). how the process of rejecting versus accommodating negative feedback occurs and. evidence from converging sources suggests that positive illusions about the self. nearly equal on ability and achievement. He argued that because the world is an uncertain and frightening place to live in. Thus. life-affirming illusions to enable them to cope with their existential terror (cf. People form relationships with people who see them as they see themselves (Secord & Backman. In a similar vein.

Swann & Read.g. 1984. Pinneau. Ambiguous information tends to be interpreted as consistent with prior beliefs (see Taylor & Crocker. is difficult to rebut. for a review). 1981b. . they are not. people preferentially recall what confirms their self-conceptions (Swann & Read. Evans. discrepant behaviors may be explained away by excuses that offer situational explanations for the behavior (C. 1975. Osborne. Suinn. however. 1980. 1975. however. This characteristic. 1983. Shrauger & Rosenberg. LaRocco.. 1983). Overall. Shenkel. 1979.g. Snyder. Typically. 1981. especially by people with high self-esteem (Shrauger & Kelly. Coyne. Shrauger and Schoeneman (1979) examined the evidence relating self-perceptions to evaluations by significant others in natural settings. for a review). 1984. for a review) have found that under certain circumstances.5 Consequently. 1981a. a woman who thinks of herself as shy may seek and receive feedback that she is (see Swann. & Stucky.. norms and strategies of social interaction generally enhance positive self-evaluations and protect against negative ones. 1983). 1982. Kaplan. one can maintain that the attributes on which one is successful are important. Cassel. Some direct evidence for cognitive drift exists in the literature 5 Some negative feedback. Cobb. nor did they find evidence of congruence between self-perceptions and evaluations by others (see also Sh- Hastie and Kumar (1979) and others (see Higgins & Bargh. 1981b). and research indicates that social support buffers people from physical and emotional distress during periods of high stress (Cobb. with the result that it is likely to be discounted (Halperin. Swann. 1980). Cohen & McKay. Snyder. if a person's prior beliefs are positive. & Lowery. Generally speaking. If negative or otherwise contradictory information succeeds in surmounting the social and cognitive filters just described. Biases in encoding. Owens. Tesser&Paulhus. & French. People generally select. on the positive aspects of the unpleasant situation. Nisbett & Ross. A considerable amount of the research cited demonstrates that people solicit and receive self-confirming feedback.. one's friends and family may help in the esteem-restoring process by selectively focusing on one's positive qualities. then.. but in fact. 1983). interpretation. But. a dramatic change in self-perception may occur following a negative experience. Another set of filters is engaged as the cognitive system encodes. discrepant self-relevant feedback is more likely to be perceived as inaccurate or uninformative than is feedback that is consistent with the self (Markus. & Gore.g. BROWN rauger. 1963. Berscheid. Rothbart. for reviews). and people who thought poorly of themselves believed that others did as well (see also Schafer & Keith. Walster & Berscheid. In particular. thus.g. Snyder. One manifestation of this tendency is that. any single encounter with negative feedback may fade into the context of other so-called evidence bolstering positive self-conceptions (cf. 1964. its effects may still be only temporary. because self-perceptions are generally positive. & Peirce. Cohen & Hoberman. They found little evidence that self-evaluations are consistently influenced by others' feedback. & Black. 1983. researchers have uniformly regarded the maintenance of self-esteem as a major benefit of social support (e. whereas the attributes on which one fails are not (e. Research demonstrates that beliefs may change radically in response to temporary conditions and then drift back again to their original state (e.202 SHELLEY E. however. 1980. 1980). 1974). Backman. find substantial evidence that people's views of themselves and their perceptions of others' evaluations of them were correlated. with time. 1978. Secord. these self-conceptions are positive. generally speaking. Some potentially contradictory information never gets into the cognitive system. information that is consistent with a prior theory is. & Walster. and under such circumstances. 1984. 1987. 1981. a behavior that is neither clearly a success nor clearly a failure is likely to be seen as positive by most individuals.g. such as failing a test or being accused of insensitivity by a friend. interpret. For example. 1981. 1981. 1970. This finding appears to occur primarily under impression-formation conditions. One caveat. 1976. Silverman. & Lazarus. & Fulero. For example. 1976. 1962. Preexisting theories strongly guide the perception of information as relevant (Howard & Rothbart. 1985). it may simply be ignored. Cognitive drift. Experimental studies are consistent with this conclusion (e. ambiguous feedback from others may be perceived as more favorable than it really is (Jacobs. It is scrutinized more closely than is confirmatory information in terms of the evaluator's motives and credibility. 198la. TAYLOR AND JONATHON D. Shenkel. 1985) by showing that friends' agreement on one's personal attributes can act as a buffer against disconfirming feedback. Greenwald. can act as another method of absorbing negative feedback. 1971). 1981). Schaefer. inconsistent information is better recalled than consistent information. 1977). People are better able to remember information that fits their self-conceptions than information that contradicts their self-conceptions (see Shrauger. Shrauger. for reviews). 1982). 1982). such as losing a job or being abandoned by a spouse. which are unlikely to characterize self-inference. 1983). R. Bower. 1976. 1977. In analyses of the social support process. Social interaction itself. When social feedback is mixed in its implications for the self. R. 1981b). & Page. 1979. then. cognitive drift. see Fiske & Taylor. deserves mention. Anderson & Pichert. At first. Swann & Read.. & Houston. or retrieves information. Shavit & Shouval. Because most people think well of themselves on most attributes. cognitive biases that favor conservatism generally will maintain positive illusions more specifically. Finally. interprets. People who thought well of themselves believed that they were well-thought-of. and recall information to be consistent with their prior beliefs or theories (see Fiske & Taylor. In those cases in which personal responsibility for failure cannot be denied. these results may seem contradictory with the position that social feedback fosters positive self-conceptions. negative feedback is seen as less credible than positive feedback (C. Interpretational biases also mute the impact of incoming information. Swann & Predmore. If feedback is not positive. They did. Higgins. 1968). House. 1977. see Shrauger. confirming feedback is typically positive feedback. Taylor & Crocker. and on the negative aspects of the former situation. and retrieval. Zadny & Gerard. House. 1980. Swann. is one filter that biases the information an individual receives in a positive direction. more likely to be recalled (e. 1981a. not necessarily positive feedback. In their review of approximately 50 studies. When all else fails.

motivation. and performance declines in that domain in the future (Hilgard & Bower. Second. more threatening attributions (e. negative self-schemata enable people to identify schema-relevant information as self-descriptive and to do so with greater speed and confidence than is true for information not related to a selfschema (Wurf& Markus. Future research can address these and other potential self-protective functions. 1983). there is considerable supportive evidence (e. Experiment 2) found that people gave a partner more credit than the self for a joint task immediately following the task (an attribution that may have considerable social value) but later gave themselves more credit for the joint product. elude the social and cognitive niters just described. For some attributes. Negative self-schemata. to protect self-esteem. "I didn't get the job because of my weight") that mitigates other. or avoid situations in which he or she will be at a disadvantage (Wurf & Markus. artistic or musical ability. In essence. produces affective. First.g. & Snyder. Cognitive drift. 1966). if the negative attribute is a physical one that a person unavoidably carries around (e. in part. to lend credibility to their positive self-assessments in other areas. Rosenberg. then. Harackiewicz. Despite the absence of research on them. learned helplessness. To summarize. negative self-relevant information or situations cannot be avoided. is a conservative mechanism that can protect against change in the cognitive system. as the self-centered bias predicts. In a series of experiments. Punishment. Like positive self-schemata.." in which one's efforts to control repeatedly come to naught. psychological wisdom. 1975). Paradoxically. therefore. Research that has adopted the punishment. 1983). and motivational deficits in both the initial situation in which helplessness occurred and in similar situations. then.. in which a behavior is followed by a noxious stimulus.. Third. For example. Campbell. For this last point. The fact that schema-relevant situations can be easily identified may make it possible for an individual to anticipate. tennis. In real life. 1979). 1984. finances.g.g. Similarly. in research on attributions for joint performance. Acknowledged pockets of incompetence. it may be isolated as much as possible from the rest of the self-concept and come to provide guidelines for avoiding or managing situations relevant to negative attributes. people may downgrade the importance or significance of the domains in which they lack skill. learned helplessness. each person is able to live out positive illusions relatively immune to negative feedback. "I didn't get the job because I'm not good enough".g. they permit self-esteem. Presumably. people construct a social world that is as self-enhancing as the private. Under these circumstances. In those cases in which negative feedback cannot be eluded. We know of no research that directly addresses these acknowledged pockets of incompetence. internal one and a cognitive system that maintains it. only when a person must actually perform a task relevant to the doubted skill. or self-induced dependence research models has uniformly stressed the liabilities of assumed incompetence: low 203 self-esteem. leads to avoidance. and performance to be left largely intact (cf. whereas the stable self-concept is more robust and less reactive. 1985. but we venture a few speculations on their attributes. because individually and collectively. Summary and Conclusions Evidence from social cognition research suggests that.. By allowing the person to avoid the area of incompetence. Frankel & Snyder.g. &Sansone. 1984. 1986.g. one creates an acknowledged pocket of incompetence.. 1982). Certain kinds of negative feedback recur repeatedly and. or ability to dance) in which he or she readily acknowledges a hopeless lack of talent. Avoidance of a task or its consistent delegation to another person may act as cues that lead one to assume that one is not good at something. except under unusual circumstances. one might expect that people actually exaggerate their incompetence in these areas to justify their total avoidance of and nonparticipation in the activities. A self-schema is a knowledge structure that summarizes information about the self in a particular domain and facilitates the processing of information about the self in that domain. Burger and Huntzinger (1985) found that initially modest attributions for successful and failed performance became more self-serving over time. shyness). i. people may admit to these incompetencies. however. 1983). These adverse effects occur. poor performance. an example of what Langer and Benevento (1978) called self-induced dependence.. a person may well avoid the domain. 1983). Negative self-schemata have not been widely studied.e. an individual's social and cognitive environments may not only fail to undermine positive illusions but may help maintain or even enhance them through a variety of mechanisms. Markus and Nurius (1986) made a similar point in noting that the working self-concept is highly responsive to the social environment. and consequently. fashion sense. the mentally . then. whatever self-protective functions they may serve are speculative. the effects of punishment. and the like. learned helplessness (Seligman. Weisz. Thus. cognitive drift also maintains positive self-conceptions. or self-induced dependence may actually be quite positive. Wurf & Markus. To the extent that beliefs about one's self and the environment are positive. Burger and Rodman (1983.ILLUSION AND WELL-BEING on self-serving attributions. Rothhaum. Avoiding situations in which one lacks skill or talent is one method of compartmentalizing negative self-relevant information. this negative information has validity and therefore must be dealt with in some way that acknowledges its existence without undermining generally positive conceptions of the self and the world. 1977). psychological theory provides ample mechanisms whereby such pockets of incompetence might develop.Lewicki. A negative self-schema may act as a convenient attribution for any failure (e. however. obesity) or if the negative attribute figures prominently into many situations (e. so that it need not permeate all aspects of identity (Wurf & Markus. One such method is accepting a limitation in order to avoid situations that would require it. low motivation. People may relegate such behaviors to others and avoid getting themselves into circumstances in which their talents would be tested. a person may develop a negative self-schema (Markus. 1978. avoidance is an impractical solution. cognitive.. Manderlink. prepare for. Each person may have a few areas of life (e. A negative self-schema may enable a person to label and cordon off an area of weakness. "Helplessness training. contrary to much traditional.

knowing when to abandon a task may be as important as knowing when to pursue it (Janoff-Bulman & Brickman. leave their beliefs intact. Indeed. For example. in press). and promotes an optimistic view of the future. An analysis of the possible mechanisms whereby these illusions may operate suggests that people may simply assimilate contradictory. or other risk factors. positive illusions may actually help people. The certitude that one is right may lead to discrimination against or hatred of others who hold different beliefs. If positive illusions foster the use of shortcuts and heuristics for making judgments and decisions (Isen & Means. Rather. his boss.204 SHELLEY E. That is. Research evidence on these points is needed. These three illusions. nevertheless. One should not. appear to foster traditional criteria of mental health. Potential liabilities associated with one illusion may be canceled out by another. each of the positive illusions described would seem to have inherent risks. because. but the capacity to alter its meaning in positive ways may produce growth and change. in fact. this may lead people to oversimplify complex intellectual tasks and to ignore important sources of information. The first theoretical weakness is that some links are not well established and require further empirical documentation. Negative information that eludes these niters may be cordoned off from having general implications for the self and one's world through such mechanisms as acknowledged pockets of incompetence or negative self-schemata. In this case. affect represents a potential route by which illusions may indirectly affect other criteria of mental health. 1958). the existence of the negative event is given. such as murder or incarceration of others. A third issue concerning the viability of the present perspec- . so the longterm consequences of any observed biases cannot easily be ascertained. Growth and change may also occur when a person is faced with a negative event such as being fired from a job or developing a serious illness. such as the perception that a new career direction will be even more rewarding than a current one. or his co-workers very much. where is the impetus for growth and change? This criticism implicitly assumes that growth and change necessarily emerge from negative experiences. Thus. and excessive selfconfidence may inspire people to make changes that might be avoided if the uphill battle ahead was fully appreciated. such as the tendency to extract people from their customary environments. but he may come to feel that he does not like the job. the capacity for personal growth and change (Jahoda. and draw far-reaching conclusions about human behavior that may in part be a response to novelty. including the ability to care about the self and others. BROWN tive concerns the experimental nature of much of the evidence. this recognition may. illusions and social skills. Indeed. We have already noted several potential biases in experimental evidence. A second limitation is that the model does not speak persuasively to another common criterion of mental health. TAYLOR AND JONATHON D. Unrealistic optimism. It is not clear that the preceding points are limits of positive illusions. one might speculate that the present approach is actually antithetical to growth and change. namely. false optimism may lead people to underestimate their vulnerability to cancer. an exaggerated sense of mastery. and experimental studies are needed. and there may be non-egorelated information inherent in situations that offsets the effects of illusions and leads people to amend their behavior. We suggest that change is often provoked by positive experiences. there may be many. a falsely positive sense of accomplishment may lead people to pursue careers and interests for which they are ill-suited. centuries of atrocities committed in the name of religious and political values bear witness to the liabilities of such faith. however. largely correlational. Faith in one's capacity to master situations may lead people to persevere at tasks that may. and the ability to engage in productive and creative work. The evidence for all three links is sparse. only that they are possible candidates. second. first. diet. It is important to remember that people's self-evaluations are only one aspect of judgments about any situation. a man who does poorly at a job may fail to correctly interpret negative feedback as evidence that he is doing a poor job. in service of their beliefs because they believe the means are wrong or because they know they will be punished. but mastery needs may lead people to control their smoking. For example. The preceding argument is not meant to suggest that positive illusions are without liabilities. maintains beliefs in personal efficacy. healthy person may not be fully cognizant of the day-to-day flotsam and jetsam of life. to seek change by minimizing awareness of the potential costs of change initially and. he may leave. we argue that. lead people to ignore important health habits (Weinstein. from committing certain actions. 1983). such as a flood or an earthquake (Lehman & Taylor. For example. Unrealistic optimism may lead people to ignore legitimate risks in their environments and to fail to take measures to offset those risks. for example. the mentally healthy person appears to have the enviable capacity to distort reality in a direction that enhances self-esteem. Further research is especially necessary regarding the link between illusions and positive affect. This criticism leads directly to a fourth major question: Are positive illusions always adaptive? Might there not be long-term limitations to positive illusions? Indeed. to profit from negative events that are unavoidable by enabling them to put those events in the best light (cf. Chief among these are the direct links between illusions and positive affect. Faith in the inherent goodness of one's beliefs and actions may lead a person to trample on the rights and values of others. 1983). negative. 1982) or to fail to prepare for a likely catastrophic event. however. as noted earlier. consequently. be uncontrollable. far from undermining personal growth and change. Another problem with experimental evidence is that the time perspective is short. the ability to be happy or contented. Despite empirical support for this analysis. People may be dissuaded. or both. if people are so able to maintain positive self-conceptions and buttress their decisions even in the face of negative feedback. as we have called them. False optimism may. and illusions and intellectual functioning. expose them to unfamiliar stimuli. leap to any obvious conclusions regarding potential liabilities of positive illusions without an appreciation of possible countervailing forces that may help offset those liabilities. Taylor. Positive illusions may also be maintained by a series of social and cognitive niters that discard or distort negative information. our perspective has some intrinsic limitations both as a theory and as a delineation of a functional system. 1982). or ambiguous information to preexisting positive schemata about the self and the world with little processing at all.

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J. J. & Griffin. D. (1980). D. 465-490.. Zadny. August). 47. R. Journal of Behavioral Medicine. H. White. BROWN Wood. (1982). W. 1987 Accepted June 30. Walster. (1984). L. & Berscheid. E.. 43. Abelson. Journal of Educational Psychology. Paper presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association. 39. (1983. (1979). Journal of Applied Social Psychology. E. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Olson Department of Psychology University of Michigan 330 Packard Road Ann Arbor. Weiner.210 SHELLEY E. Good news-bad news: Affective and interpersonal effects. Attributed intentions and informational selectivity. CA. J. 1986 Revision received June 25. Wurf. In R. Veitch. 599-608). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. A. Submit nominations no later than April 4. S. The effects of time on cognitive consistency. (1974). W. Tannenbaum (Eds. 776777.. Unrealistic optimism about susceptibility to health problems. & Mischel..). Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. W. V. Roediger III is the incumbent editor. Vaillant. and Anne Pick. Newcomb. (1982). Please note that the P&C Board encourages more participation by women and ethnic minority men and women in the publication process and would particularly welcome such nominees. 5.245-287. (1976). 297-335. 901-914. or: The motivational bias is alive and well in attribution theory. Weinstein. Candidates must be members of APA and should be available to start receiving manuscripts in early 1989 to prepare for issues published in 1990. Charles Clifton. Influence of affect on cognitive social learning person variables. R. (1985). & Gerard.. (1959). Weinstein. Psychological Review. 1169-1183. TAYLOR AND JONATHON D. Cognitive consequences of the negative self. & Markus. Attribution of success and failure revisited. Social comparison in adjustment to breast cancer. 47. Michigan 48104. N.. & Brockner. B. 96. E. Psychological Bulletin.1987 Call for Nominations for Editor ofJEP: Learning. R. Theories of cognitive consistency: A sourcebook (pp. & P. McOuire. 3452. Brown. Watson. P. Chicago: Rand McNally. Journal of Personality. Adaptation to life. Memory. Unrealistic optimism about future life events. R.. E. Zuckerman. 6. G. Other members of the search committee are Lyle Bourne. (1979). to Gary M. A theory of motivation for some classroom experiences. M. Henry L.441-460. and Cognition The Publications and Communications Board has opened nominations for the editorship of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning. 49. (1968). N. Wright. (1979). and Cognition for the years 19901995. & Lichtman. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.806-820. Memory. Boston: Little. E. Negative afiectivity: The disposition to experience aversive emotional states. M. prepare a statement of one page or less in support of each candidate. J. H. . JO. Self-esteem and self-evaluation covert statements. Rosenberg.. M. R. J. B. 1988. 69-75.. Vasta. Aronson. T. 71. W. Taylor. (1977). D. Anaheim. To nominate candidates. Motivation reconsidered: The concept of competence. & Clark. 3-25. Received December 29. 66. J. H.

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