Does Unrealistic Optimism Change Following a Negative Experience?1


  • 1

    This research was supported by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (L211252021) that was awarded to the first author. We would like to thank Lynn Myers for her comments and the Thames Valley Police for their assistance in carrying out this research.

2 Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Frank P. McKenna, Psychology Department, University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading RG6 6AL, United Kingdom.


One important counteracting force that may decrease the effects of unrealistic optimism is personal experience with threat. To examine this hypothesis, several groups were examined who had been exposed to varying degrees of threat. It was found that only those who had been exposed to the most severe threat (being hospitalized after a road accident) showed differential comparative risk estimates from those who had experienced no threat. Differences between these two groups were also found for their self-reported risk behavior. The generality of the debiasing effect was assessed by examining risk perceptions in other domains. It was found that the effect was domain specific.