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People are optimistic about their prospects relative to others. However, existing studies can be difficult to interpret because outcomes are not zero-sum. For example, one person avoiding cancer does not necessitate that another person develops cancer. Ideally, optimism bias would be evaluated within a closed formal system to establish with certainty the extent of the bias and the associated environmental factors, such that optimism bias is demonstrated when a population is internally inconsistent. Accordingly, we asked NFL fans to predict how many games teams they liked and disliked would win in the 2015 season. Fans, like ESPN reporters assigned to cover a team, were overly optimistic about their team's prospects. The opposite pattern was found for teams that fans disliked. Optimism may flourish because year-to-year team results are marked by auto-correlation and regression to the group mean (i.e., good teams stay good, but bad teams improve).

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Bias (Epidemiology), Humans, Models, Theoretical, Optimism, Sports