Wishful thinking describes decision-making and the formation of beliefs based on what might be pleasing to imagine, rather than on evidence , rationality , or reality.
It is a product of resolving conflicts between belief, and desire. Methodologies to examine wishful thinking are diverse. Various disciplines and schools of thought examine related mechanisms such as neural circuitry, human cognition and emotion, types of bias, procrastination, motivation, optimism, attention and environment. This concept has been examined as a fallacy. Some psychologists believe that positive thinking is able to positively influence behavior and so bring about better results.
This is called the " Pygmalion effect ". Christopher Booker described wishful thinking in terms of. Studies have consistently shown that holding all else equal, subjects will predict positive outcomes to be more likely than negative outcomes see unrealistic optimism.
However, research suggests that under certain circumstances, such as when threat increases, a reverse phenomenon occurs.
In addition to being a cognitive bias and a poor way of making decisions , wishful thinking is commonly held to be a specific informal fallacy in an argument when it is assumed that because we wish something to be true or false, it is actually true or false.
Wishful thinking may cause blindness to unintended consequences. Wishful seeing is the phenomenon in which a person's internal state influences their visual perception. People have the tendency to believe that they perceive the world for what it is, but research suggests otherwise. Currently, there are two main types of wishful seeing based on where wishful seeing occurs—in categorization of objects or in representations of an environment.
The concept of wishful seeing was first introduced by the New Look approach to psychology. In their classic study, they asked children to demonstrate their perception of the size of coins by manipulating the diameter of a circular aperture on a wooden box.
Each child held the coin in their left hand at the same height and distance from the aperture and operated the knob to change the size of the aperture with their right hand. The children were divided into three groups, two experimental and one control, with ten children in each group. The control group was asked to estimate the size of coin-sized cardboard discs instead of actual coins.
On average, the children of the experimental groups overestimated the size of the coins by thirty percent. In a second iteration of the experiment, Bruner and Goodman divided the children into groups based on economic status.
Again, both the "poor" and "rich" groups were asked to estimate the size of real coins by manipulating the diameter of the aperture. As was expected, both groups overestimated the size of the coins, but the "poor" group overestimated the size by as much as fifty percent, which was up to thirty percent more than the "rich" group. From these results Bruner and Goodman concluded that poorer children felt a greater desire for money and thus perceived the coins as larger.
This hypothesis formed the basis of the New Look psychological approach which suggests that the subjective experience of an object influences the visual perception of that object. The psychodynamic perspective lost support because it lacked a sufficient model to account for how the unconscious could influence perception. Although some further research was able to replicate the results found by Bruner and Goodman, the New Look approach was mostly abandoned by the s because the experiments were riddled with methodological errors that did not account for confounding factors such as reporter bias and context.
This process occurs when threat increases. Concrete cognitive mechanisms underlying wishful thinking and wishful seeing are unknown. Since these concepts are still developing, research on the mechanisms contributing to this phenomenon is still in progress. However, some mechanisms have been proposed.
Wishful thinking could be attributed to three mechanisms: attentional bias , interpretation bias or response bias.
Therefore, there are three different stages in cognitive processing in which wishful thinking could arise.
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Individuals can attend to evidence that supports their desires and neglect contradictory evidence. In this case, an individual is not changing their attention to the cue but the attribution of importance to the cue. Wishful seeing can be attributed to the same mechanisms as wishful thinking because it involves the processing of situational cues, including visual cues.
However, with preconscious processing of visual cues and their associations with desirable outcomes, interpretation bias and response bias are not plausible since they occur in conscious cognitive processing stages.
Therefore, cues are readily recognized when they are related to such a mental state or association. Some speculate that wishful seeing results from cognitive penetrability in that higher cognitive functions are able to directly influence perceptual experience instead of only influencing perception at higher levels of processing.
Those that argue against cognitive penetrability feel that sensory systems operate in a modular fashion with cognitive states exerting their influence only after the stimuli has been perceived.
Wishful seeing has been observed to occur in early stages of categorization. Research using ambiguous figures and binocular rivalry exhibit this tendency. In visual processing, bottom-up processing is a rigid route compared to flexible top-down processing. This effect can be observed via priming as well as with emotional states.
This occurrence is called conceptual or cognitive penetrability. Research on conceptual penetrability utilize stimuli of conceptual-category pairs and measure the reaction time to determine if the category effect influenced visual processing,  The category effect is the difference in reaction times within the pairs such as Bb to Bp.
To test conceptual penetrability, there were simultaneous and sequential judgments of pairs. The reaction times decreased as the stimulus onset asynchrony increased, supporting categories affect visual representations and conceptual penetrability.
Research with richer stimuli such as figures of cats and dogs allow for greater perceptual variability and analysis of stimulus typicality cats and dogs were arranged in various positions, some more or less typical for recognition.
Differentiating the pictures took longer when they were within the same category dog a -dog b compared between categories dog-cat supporting category knowledge influences categorization. Therefore, visual processing measured by physical differential judgments is affected by non-visual processing supporting conceptual penetrability.
The areas of the brain that motivate wishful seeing and thinking are associated with the same regions that underlie social identification and reward.
A study looked at these structures using MRI while participants estimated the winning probabilities for a series of football teams. Prior to this estimation, the individuals specified their favorite, neutral and least favorite NFL teams.
Wishful thinking has been associated with social identity theory where individual seem to prefer in-group members over out-group members. During wishful thinking tasks, differential activity was found in three areas of the brain: dorsal medial prefrontal cortex , the parietal lobe , and the fusiform gyrus in the occipital lobe.
Differential activity in the occipital and parietal areas suggests a mode of selective attention to the cues presented; therefore, supporting a lower-level cognitive processing or attention bias.
The prefrontal cortex activity is related to preferences involved in social identification. This identification of self carries hedonic value which in turn stimulates the reward system. Magnocellular M and parvocellular P pathways, which feed into the orbitofrontal cortex , play important roles in top-down processes that are susceptible to cognitive penetrability. Humans have a physiologically limited visual field that must be selectively directed to certain stimuli.
Attention is the cognitive process that allows this task to be accomplished and it might be responsible for the phenomenon of wishful seeing. Expectations, desires and fears are among the various factors that help direct attention. In turn, attention can organize planned movement, providing a mechanism through which visual stimuli can influence behavior.
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Attentional deficits can also lead to altered perceptual experiences. Inattentional blindness , where unexpected events go by undetected, is one such deficit. First, a number cue denoting the number of letters that would appear on the arms of the cross appeared in the center of the cross.
Following the cue, the actual letters would appear on the arms of the cross. Over four trials, the number of letters matched the number that was cued.
On the fifth trial, half of the participants were cued to expect a smaller number of letters and half were cued to expect the correct number of letters. The letters then appeared on the screen accompanied by an unexpected stimulus. Participants were asked which letters appeared and whether they had seen any additional object.
Participants cued to expect fewer letters were more susceptible to inattentional blindness as they failed to detect the unexpected stimulus more often than participants who had been cued to expect the correct number of stimuli.
These results indicate that attentional capacity is affected by expectations. Although attention can lead to enhanced perceptual processing, the lack of attention to stimuli can also lead to a perceived enhanced perception of the stimuli.
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They were then presented with stimuli gratings with different textures and then a response cue that indicated the diagonal for which the participants had to judge their perception. The participants were asked to report texture of the gratings that appeared in the response-cue and discriminate its visibility. This set-up allowed them to compare the perception of attended cued and non-attended stimuli uncued. Therefore, inattention lead to an overestimation of perception sensitivity.
Definition of wishful thinking
Emotion is often interpreted through visual cues on the face, body language and context. Therefore, cultural context can influence how people sample information from a face, just like they would do in a situational context.
For example, Caucasians generally fixate around eyes, nose and mouth, while Asians fixate on eyes. Fixation on different features of the face leads to disparate reading of emotions. This particular difference in visual perception of emotion seems to suggest an attention bias mechanism for wishful seeing, since certain visual cues were attended to e. Wishful seeing is also linked to optimism bias through which individuals tend to expect positive outcomes from events despite such expectations having little basis in reality.
In order to determine the neural correlates underlying optimism bias, one functional magnetic resonance imaging fMRI study imaged the brains of individuals as they recalled autobiographical moments related to life events and then rated their memories on several scales.
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These ratings revealed that participants viewed future positive events as more positive than past positive events and negative events as more temporally distant. The active brain regions, compared to a fixation point, were the rostral anterior cingulate cortex rACC and the right amygdala. Both of these areas became less active when imagining negative future events.
The rACC is implicated in assessing emotional content and has strong connections to the amygdala.
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It is suggested that the rACC regulates activation in brain regions associated with emotion and autobiographical memory, thus allowing for the projection of positivity onto images of future events. It is important to consider physical aspects such as eye movement and brain activity and their relationship to wishful thinking, wishful seeing, and optimism. Isaacowitz investigated the motivational role of gaze, which he claims is highly correlated to an individual's interests and personality.
Wishful thinking is often studied in the context of psychology through the application of ambiguous figure studies, the hypothesis being that when presented with an ambiguous stimuli, the participant will interpret the stimuli in a certain way depending on the conditions or priming the participant experiences.
Balcetis and Dunning investigated wishful seeing by conducting two experiments, one involving two ambiguous stimuli that could be perceived as "B" or "13", and the other either a horse or a seal.
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The second experiment was a binocular rivalry test in which the participants were presented simultaneously with the letter "H" or number "4" one stimuli in each eye. In each experiment, the experimenters associated one of the stimuli with desirable outcomes, and the other with a negative outcome i. The concept of wishful seeing hints towards a motivation-based perception process.