The Bias in the Bias: Comparative Optimism as a Function of Event Social Undesirability

63 Pages Posted: 7 May 2014

See all articles by Steven Sweldens

Steven Sweldens

INSEAD - Marketing

S. Puntoni

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Rotterdam School of Management (RSM)

Gabriele Paolacci

Erasmus University - Rotterdam School of Management

Maarten Vissers

Dutch Tax and Customs Administration

Date Written: May 2014

Abstract

We present a new event-level predictor of comparative optimism: comparative optimism is larger for more socially undesirable events. A meta-analysis shows that event social undesirability predicts comparative optimism effect sizes reported in the literature, over and above the effects of other known predictors. Four experiments corroborate this finding and demonstrate the key role played by respondents’ impression management motives. The effect of social undesirability decreases with stronger than usual anonymity assurances, increases with greater impression management tendencies, and reverses when people want to make a negative impression. Because social undesirability is correlated to other known predictors of comparative optimism (e.g., controllability, severity), it is important to take its effects into account when assessing the effect of other event characteristics. The current research adds to, and bridges, the literatures on event-level predictors and impression management in comparative optimism.

Keywords: comparative optimism, social undesirability, impression management, unrealistic optimism, meta-analysis

Suggested Citation

Sweldens, Steven and Puntoni, Stefano and Paolacci, Gabriele and Vissers, Maarten, The Bias in the Bias: Comparative Optimism as a Function of Event Social Undesirability (May 2014). Sweldens, S., Puntoni, P., Paolacci, G., Vissers, M. (2014). The Bias in the Bias: Comparative Optimism as a Function of Event Social Undesirability. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 124(2), 229-244., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2432903

Steven Sweldens

INSEAD - Marketing ( email )

Boulevard de Constance
Fontainebleau, 77305
France

Stefano Puntoni

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) ( email )

P.O. Box 1738
Room T08-21
3000 DR Rotterdam, 3000 DR
Netherlands

Gabriele Paolacci (Contact Author)

Erasmus University - Rotterdam School of Management ( email )

3000 DR Rotterdam
Netherlands

Maarten Vissers

Dutch Tax and Customs Administration ( email )

Herman Gorterstraat 5
Utrecht, Utrecht 3511EW
Netherlands

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