The paranoid optimist: an integrative evolutionary model of cognitive biases

Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2006;10(1):47-66. doi: 10.1207/s15327957pspr1001_3.


Human cognition is often biased, from judgments of the time of impact of approaching objects all the way through to estimations of social outcomes in the future. We propose these effects and a host of others may all be understood from an evolutionary psychological perspective. In this article, we elaborate error management theory (EMT; Haselton & Buss, 2000). EMT predicts that if judgments are made under uncertainty, and the costs of false positive and false negative errors have been asymmetric over evolutionary history, selection should have favored a bias toward making the least costly error. This perspective integrates a diverse array of effects under a single explanatory umbrella, and it yields new content-specific predictions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Avoidance Learning
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Cognition*
  • Cognitive Dissonance*
  • Culture
  • Humans
  • Illusions
  • Internal-External Control
  • Judgment*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Paranoid Personality Disorder / psychology*
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Self Efficacy
  • Social Perception