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Humans Are Bad at Predicting Futures That Don’t Benefit Them

Unrealistic optimism is thinking that good things are more likely to happen to you than to other people, whereas bad things are less likely. It’s not outright denial of risk, says Neil Weinstein. “People don’t say, ‘It can’t happen to me.’ It’s more like, ‘It could happen to me, but it’s not as likely [for me] as for other people around me.’” People predict that they’re less likely than others to experience illness, injury, divorce, death, and other adverse events — even when they’re exposed to the same risk factors. For instance, someone might think she’s less prone to diabetes than others, even if she weighs the same, eats the same, shares similar family history with, and has the same lifestyle as the people she’s comparing herself to.

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