The present studies examined cognitive processes underlying the tendency to underestimate project completion times. Two experiments tested the hypothesis that people generate overly optimistic predictions, in part, because they focus narrowly on their future plans for the target task and thus neglect other useful sources of information. Consistent with the hypothesis, instructing participants to adopt a “future focus”—in which they generated concrete, specific plans for the task at hand—led them to make more optimistic predictions about when they would complete their intended Christmas shopping (Study 1) and major school assignments (Study 2). The future focus manipulation did not have a corresponding effect on actual completion times, and thus increased the degree of optimistic bias in prediction. The studies also demonstrated that the optimistic prediction bias generalized across different task domains, relevant individual differences (i.e., trait optimism and procrastination), and other contextual variations.
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes – Elsevier
Published: Sep 1, 2003
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