Optimism and attribution about uncertain events: What happened to missing flight MH370?
School of Business and Law
This study examines how individual optimism affects attributions about uncertain phenomena. Using a motivated reasoning lens, we theorize that optimism drives people to overestimate the effectiveness of measures meant to prevent accidents. We tested this theory with two studies. The first study assessed attributions about Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 immediately following its disappearance. Individual optimism positively related to the perceived likelihood of an unpredictable explanation, a mentally unstable pilot, and negatively related to the likelihood of mechanical failure. The second study examined attributions about the causes of a hypothetical car crash, finding optimism positively related to preventable factors under the control of drivers. Optimists overestimate their own agency (in the car crash scenario) for promoting safety and the infallibility of institutional systems (airplane disappearance).