Examining self-presentation as a motivational explanation for comparative optimism

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2009 Oct;97(4):716-27. doi: 10.1037/a0016231.


Five studies examined a self-presentation explanation for comparative optimism. Experiments 1 and 2 laid the foundation for such an account by first showing that people associate a favorable identity-image with the conveyance of an optimistic outlook and that people recognize that an individual may be perceived in a negative light if his or her optimistic estimates are disconfirmed, hence raising the issue of potential accountability demands. Following the issue of accountability, the results across Experiments 3, 4, and 5 provided consistent evidence that people employ comparative optimism in their self-presentation efforts but only if the circumstances involve little risk of being held potentially accountable. Specifically, when self-presentational situations involved greater accountability demands, comparative optimism decreased (less optimistic), whereas, when these situations involved reduced accountability demands, comparative optimism increased (more optimistic). In short, the current experiments present compelling evidence demonstrating that comparative optimism may reflect an individual's goal to self-present a favorable identity-image, with the provision that such efforts are constrained by accountability pressures.

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attitude*
  • Ego
  • Female
  • Goals
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Negativism
  • Perception / physiology
  • Personality / physiology*
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Identification*
  • Stereotyping
  • Students / psychology