The costs and benefits of positive illusions

Spyros Makridakis, Andreas Moleskis

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


    Positive illusions are associated with unrealistic optimism about the future and an inflated assessment of one's abilities. They are prevalent in normal life and are considered essential for maintaining a healthy mental state, although, there are disagreements to the extent to which people demonstrate these positive illusions and whether they are beneficial or not. But whatever the situation, it is hard to dismiss their existence and their positive and/or negative influence on human behavior and decision making in general. Prominent among illusions is that of control, that is "the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events." This paper describes positive illusions, their potential benefits but also quantifies their costs in five specific fields (gambling, stock and other markets, new firms and startups, preventive medicine and wars). It is organized into three parts. First the psychological reasons giving rise to positive illusions are described and their likely harm and benefits stated. Second, their negative consequences are presented and their costs are quantified in five areas seriously affected with emphasis to those related to the illusion of control that seems to dominate those of unrealistic optimism. The costs involved are huge and serious efforts must be undertaken to understand their enormity and steps taken to avoid them in the future. Finally, there is a concluding section where the challenges related to positive illusions are noted and directions for future research are presented.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number859
    JournalFrontiers in Psychology
    Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2015


    • Better that average symptom
    • Cost/benefits of illusions
    • Gambling fallacy
    • Illusion of control
    • Illusions
    • Planning fallacy
    • Preventive medicine
    • Self rated health (SRH)


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