Seeing through rose-colored glasses: How optimistic expectancies guide visual attention

Kress, Laura; Bristle, Mirko; Aue, Tatjana (2018). Seeing through rose-colored glasses: How optimistic expectancies guide visual attention. PLoS ONE, 13(2), e0193311. Public Library of Science 10.1371/journal.pone.0193311

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Optimism bias and positive attention bias have important highly similar implications for mental health but have only been examined in isolation. Investigating the causal relationships between these biases can improve the understanding of their underlying cognitive mechanisms, leading to new directions in neurocognitive research and revealing important information about normal functioning as well as the development, maintenance, and treatment of psychological diseases. In the current project, we hypothesized that optimistic expectancies can exert causal influences on attention deployment. To test this causal relation, we conducted two experiments in which we manipulated optimistic and pessimistic expectancies regarding future rewards and punishments. In a subsequent visual search task, we examined participants’ attention to positive (i.e., rewarding) and negative (i.e., punishing) target stimuli, measuring their eye gaze behavior and reaction times. In both experiments, participants’ attention was guided toward reward compared with punishment when optimistic expectancies were induced. Additionally, in Experiment 2, participants’ attention was guided toward punishment compared with reward when pessimistic expectancies were induced. However, the effect of optimistic (rather than pessimistic) expectancies on attention deployment was stronger. A key characteristic of optimism bias is that people selectively update expectancies in an optimistic direction, not in a pessimistic direction, when receiving feedback. As revealed in our studies, selective attention to rewarding versus punishing evidence when people are optimistic might explain this updating asymmetry. Thus, the current data can help clarify why optimistic expectancies are difficult to overcome. Our findings elucidate the cognitive mechanisms underlying optimism and attention bias, which can yield a better understanding of their benefits for mental health.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology

UniBE Contributor:

Kress, Laura, Bristle, Mirko David Tobias, Aue, Tatjana


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology
600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health




Public Library of Science


[4] Swiss National Science Foundation




Tatjana Aue Seil

Date Deposited:

04 Jul 2018 08:54

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:04

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

optimism bias, attention bias, combined cognitive biases hypothesis, eye tracking




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