Does Preparing For The Worst Make Me A Better Mother?

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I’m one of those people who can’t drive across a bridge without running through my plans for any number of totally feasible calamities. You know, plane crashing into the bridge, car accident sending me off into the water, terrorist attack hitting and separating me from my children, the usual. I’m also one of those people who sort of plans for the worst and keeps my expectations from others very low.

And it turns out this might not be a bad thing.

At least, a new study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience shows that the opposite penchant toward optimism carries some risks. Researchers Tali Sharot, Christoph W. Korn and Raymond J. Dolan were curious as to why so many people remain optimistic even when facing long odds or bleak prospects.

They monitored 19 volunteers in MRIs as they were confronted with various problems such as having their car stolen, getting fired, developing cancer and dozens of other scenarios.

The subjects were then asked to estimate how likely they would suffer each calamity. Then they were informed of the actual average probability of the risk. Later they were again asked the likelihood of facing the various problems and the volunteers only updated their estimates if the actual probability was less than they had earlier thought.

“Our study suggests that we pick and choose the information that we listen too,” said Sharot. “The more optimistic we are, the less likely we are to be influenced by negative information about the future.”

During the brain scans, volunteers who were most optimistic showed the least activity in their frontal lobes (which are strongly associated with emotional control). Researchers said that shows that unbridled optimism had unperceived risks.

“Seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty can be a positive thing — it can lower stress and anxiety, and be good for our health and wellbeing,” she said.

“But it can also mean that we are less likely to take precautionary action, such as practicing safe sex or saving up for retirement.”

Oh wait. It would probably be better if I had lower stress and anxiety than having thought through my gameplan for disasters, wouldn’t it.

Oh well, I’d still rather be pleasantly surprised by good news than unpleasantly surprised by bad news.