The threats of optimism bias to thinking critically under the COVID-19 pandemic

Kelly Yee Lai Ku*, Rachel Hoi Yan Au, Ann Yee On Choy, Apple Chung Yan Au, Toby May Yang Tong

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapter


The COVID-19 pandemic is a unique challenge to critical thinking. There is an evolutionary adaptive function for the human brain to, at tough times, gives a systematically biased outlook on the future in favor of positive outcomes for ourselves rather than for others. Such a preference of skewed future outcome projections is called optimism bias. The bias results in individuals bypassing the analytic system and relying on the heuristic system which operates on intuition and personal beliefs when it comes to making health-related decisions. Being overly and selectively positive could lead to the distortion of risk assessment as individuals downplay their chance of contracting the virus during an infectious disease outbreak. Yet the literature has previously demonstrated the benefits of being optimistically biased, that it leads to a sense of control and hope, and minimizes our anxiety when we believe bad things are more likely to happen to others, but not to us. We experience a paradox as we fight the COVID-19 battle: On one end is the need for the precise assessment of risk and on the other end is the psychological burden such precision could cost us during a health crisis. Does optimism bias pay off during COVID-19 at the price of critical thinking? What are the costs of the bias for the individual and the society? Is there capacity for the greater critical thinking of individuals in terms of risk assessment under the infectious disease outbreak, despite the influence of optimism bias? The current chapter reviews studies conducted across countries such as France, Italy, Switzerland, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and China during the COVID-19 crisis on the prevalence and impacts of optimism bias, and sees whether they shed lights on these questions.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPerspectives on Critical Thinking
EditorsJohn C. Sanders
PublisherNova Science Publishers
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781536196382
ISBN (Print)9781536196214
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2021

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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