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Monday, May 04, 2015

Optimism Bias








Optimism bias. Now there's a phrase.

I actually stumbled upon it earlier today when running a google search with the question, "People who ignore risks are called?"

So, what is Optimism bias and where does it fit in with this blog?

Well, here's the definition:

Optimism bias (also known as unrealistic or comparative optimism) is a cognitive bias that causes a person to believe that they are less at risk of experiencing a negative event compared to others. (Wikipedia)

The UK government also use this phrase in 'The Green Book'.The Green Book is guidance for central government produced by the Treasury on how publicly funded bodies should prepare and analyse proposed policies, programmes and projects to obtain the best public value and manage risks.

I wonder if the British drug regulator, the MHRA, refer to the 'Green Book' when making decisions about granting licences to drugs, in particular, SSRI's?

On our behalf (because remember, they are supposed to be working on our behalf) the MHRA grant licences to drugs based on the evidence supplied to them by the pharmaceutical industry. A licence indicates all the proper checks have been carried out and the benefits of a medicine are believed to outweigh the risks.

Now, let's look at the definition of Optimism bias once more, this time, a more in-depth look.

This from Psychlopedia, a psychology website.

Optimism bias, originally referred to as unrealistic optimism (Weinstein, 1980), is the tendency of individuals to underestimate the likelihood they will experience adverse events, such as skin cancer or car accidents. As a consequence of this bias, some individuals might disregard precautions that might curb these risks. They might not, for example, wear seatbelts.
Optimism bias, although a distortion that could provoke risky behavior, has also been conceptualized as a hallmark of wellbeing. In particular, according to Taylor and Brown (1988), optimism bias-together with illusions of control and unrealistic positive perceptions of the self-can foster positive thoughts and ultimately enhance self esteem and wellbeing.
Nevertheless, optimism biases might instead reflect defensive mechanisms, such as denial, which are inversely related to wellbeing (e.g., Colvin & Block, 1994; Myers & Brewin, 1996). Furthermore, optimism biases coincide with failures to engage in suitable precautionary acts. 

I don't know about you but I thought this line was particularly telling, even more so if you substitute the word 'humans' with 'medicines regulators'.

"Humans, however, exhibit a pervasive and surprising bias: when it comes to predicting what will happen to us tomorrow, next week, or fifty years from now, we overestimate the likelihood of positive events, and underestimate the likelihood of negative events."

So, on our behalf, yet on their own behest, the MHRA show an unrealistic optimism that underestimate the likelihood that WE will experience adverse events on the drugs that they grant licence to.

I've got that right, haven't I?

Tali Sharot of the Department of Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences, Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London, pretty much hits the nail on the head with a published paper that, to me at least, could be describing the actions of the MHRA, FDA, in fact any global medicine regulator. Sharote writes...

The ability to anticipate is a hallmark of cognition. Inferences about what will occur in the future are critical to decision making, enabling us to prepare our actions so as to avoid harm and gain reward. Given the importance of these future projections, one might expect the brain to possess accurate, unbiased foresight. Humans, however, exhibit a pervasive and surprising bias: when it comes to predicting what will happen to us tomorrow, next week, or fifty years from now, we overestimate the likelihood of positive events, and underestimate the likelihood of negative events. For example, we underrate our chances of getting divorced, being in a car accident, or suffering from cancer. We also expect to live longer than objective measures would warrant, overestimate our success in the job market, and believe that our children will be especially talented. This phenomenon is known as the optimism bias, and it is one of the most consistent, prevalent, and robust biases documented in psychology and behavioral economics.

Ergo, I accuse the MHRA, FDA and all other global medicine regulators as having Optimism Bias.

Any authors of the DSM reading this? Then again, I think those same authors have optimism bias too.


Bob Fiddaman.