20. Taylor, S. (1998). Positive illusions. In H. Friedman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of mental health
(pp. 199-208). NY: Academic Press.
I. The Mentally Healthy Person
• The significance of positive illusions and their apparent beneficial effects stems from the
challenge they pose to traditional models of health
• Decades of psychological wisdom defines the well-adjusted person as “is thought to
engage in accurate reality testing, whereas the individual whose vision is clouded by
illusion is regarded as vulnerable to mental illness,” majority of theories also considered
contact with reality to be a critical component
• Recent textbooks include that the mentally healthy person perceives reality accurately
although theory and research on positive illusions suggest that accurate perceptions of
oneself, the world, and the future are not essential to mental health; moreover, mildly
positive distortions of one’s personal future may well be more psychologically adaptive
than accurate perceptions
• The set of criterion that mark the mentally healthy individual are:
o The ability to be happy/ relatively contented
o The ability to develop caring relationships with others
o The ability to cope with the inevitable stresses of life
o Ability to engage in creative and productive work and to maintain motivation,
persistence, and performance in the face of impediments and setbacks
II. Self-Aggrandizing Self-Perceptions
• People consistently regard themselves more positively and less negatively than they
• The ways in which people adopt and maintain these self-aggrandizing self-perceptions
1. People choose evaluative dimensions on which they are certain to appear more
2. They define attributes in idiosyncratic ways that emphasize their personal
3. They select worse-off comparison individuals or groups that guarantee a
favourable self-other comparison • This is reliably associated with psychological well-being. Positive self-perceptions may
aid in coping by buffering people against the normal stressors of daily life and when
people encounter more traumatic life events.
• Feeling good about oneself through self-aggrandizing self-perceptions clearly fosters a
sense of contentment
• The perception that most people hold of themselves is not as well balanced as traditional
models of mental health have suggested. Normal people appear to be quite cognizant of
their strengths and assets and less aware of their weaknesses and faults. These self-
portrayals have been regarded as illusory because most people see themselves better than
the average person.
• Are self-aggrandizing self-perceptions always beneficial, and are they more beneficial,
the more positive they become? No, these can make people set themselves up for failure,
and make people with high self-perceptions lash out against others whom they regard as
criticizing or disrespecting them.
III. The Illusion of Control
• Most individuals appear to be less realistic in their beliefs about the degree to which they
can exert personal control over environmental occurrences. Such beliefs, however, are
often greater than can be justified, but nonetheless, appear to be associated with adaptive
functioning under both normal and stressful circumstances.Asubstantial amount of
experimental literature indicates that an illusion of control helps people to adjust to
forthcoming laboratory stressors.
• Feelings of control are self-generated in response to stressful occurrences, such as
chronic disease, are also associated with better adjustment.
• The form that the illusion of control assumes is important. There is little evidence that
believing one can control external events is adaptive if no control exists. Typically, the
illusion of control is not held about occurrences that are completely uncontrollable, such
as whether one causes the sun to come up in the morning, but rather involves mild
distortions of the degree of control that actually exists in many settings. Moreover, there
is some evidence that perceptions of control, and specifically, what aspects of a situation
are controllable, shift in response to feedback about the success of one’s efforts.
• It has been argued that mildly and severely depressed individuals are less vulnerable to
the illusion of control and instead make more accurate estimates of their degree of
personal control than do non-depressed individuals. • Amild illusion of control often exists in normal individuals, and it appears generally to
be associated with good psychological adjustment.
IV. Unrealistic Optimism
• Most people believe that the present is better than the past and that the future will be
• People overestimate the likelihood that they will experience a wide variety of pleasant
events, such as liking their first job, getting a good salary, or having a gifted child, in
comparison to their perceptions of other people attaining these same outcomes. Not
everyone’s future can be rosier than that of their peers, therefore, the optimism that
individuals display appears to be illusory.
• Unrealistic optimism appears to be healthy from the standpoint of the traditional criteria
of mental health.
V. Positive Illusions And Trauma
• The positive illusions of self-aggrandizing self-perceptions, an illusion of control, and
unrealistic optimism may be particularly helpful for enabling people to combat the major
stressful events or traumas of life.Atrauma may be defined as a disruptive negative event
that produces life disturbance and at least temporary aberrations in psychological
functioning, marked by anxiety, depression, and other