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Unrealistically Optimistic Consumers: A Selective Hypothesis Testing Account for Optimism in Predictions of Future Behavior


  • Robin J. Tanner
  • Kurt A. Carlson


We propose that when predicting future behavior, consumers selectively (but unwittingly) test the hypothesis that they will behave ideally. This selective hypothesis testing perspective on unrealistic optimism suggests that estimates of future behavior should be similar to those made by individuals who assume that conditions will be ideal. Moreover, consumers who initially provide estimates assuming that conditions will be ideal should recognize that the world is not ideal and so should test a more realistic hypothesis. In line with these predictions, we find that ideal-world estimates (e.g., In an ideal world, how often will you exercise next week?) do not differ from standard estimates (e.g., How often will you exercise next week?). We also find that individuals who initially estimate their behavior in an ideal world subsequently make more realistic predictions. (c) 2008 by JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc..

Suggested Citation

  • Robin J. Tanner & Kurt A. Carlson, 2009. "Unrealistically Optimistic Consumers: A Selective Hypothesis Testing Account for Optimism in Predictions of Future Behavior," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 35(5), pages 810-822, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:jconrs:v:35:y:2009:i:5:p:810-822
    DOI: 10.1086/593690

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    Cited by:

    1. Paradiso, Antonio & Kumar, Saten & Margani, Patrizia, 2014. "Are Italian consumer confidence adjustments asymmetric? A macroeconomic and psychological motives approach," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 48-63.
    2. Kapoor, Harish & Heslop, Louise A., 2009. "Brand positivity and competitive effects on the evaluation of brand extensions," International Journal of Research in Marketing, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 228-237.
    3. Samuel D. Bond & Kurt A. Carlson & Ralph L. Keeney, 2010. "Improving the Generation of Decision Objectives," Decision Analysis, INFORMS, vol. 7(3), pages 238-255, September.
    4. Claus, Edda & Nguyen, Viet Hoang, 2023. "Biased expectations," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 154(C).
    5. Vlaev, Ivo, 2012. "How different are real and hypothetical decisions? Overestimation, contrast and assimilation in social interaction," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 33(5), pages 963-972.
    6. Halloran, Timothy J. & Lutz, Richard J., 2021. "Let's Give Them Something to Talk About: Which Social Media Engagements Predict Purchase Frequency?," Journal of Interactive Marketing, Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 83-95.
    7. repec:cup:judgdm:v:9:y:2014:i:3:p:207-225 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Posavac, Steven S. & Ratchford, Mark & Bollen, Nicolas P.B. & Sanbonmatsu, David M., 2019. "Premature infatuation and commitment in individual investing decisions," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 72(C), pages 245-259.
    9. Jeffrey Meyer & Venkatesh Shankar & Leonard L. Berry, 2018. "Pricing hybrid bundles by understanding the drivers of willingness to pay," Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Springer, vol. 46(3), pages 497-515, May.
    10. Darren W Dahl & Eileen Fischer & Gita V Johar & Vicki G Morwitz, 2017. "Making Sense from (Apparent) Senselessness: The JCR Lens," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 44(4), pages 719-723.
    11. Connie S. K. Poon & Derek J. Koehler & Roger Buehler, 2014. "On the psychology of self-prediction: Consideration of situational barriers to intended actions," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 9(3), pages 207-225, May.

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