The typical student as an in-group member: Eliminating optimistic bias by reducing social distance

Peter Harris, Wendy Middleton, Richard Joiner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

47 Citations (Scopus)


Attempted to eliminate optimistic bias (OB) by reducing the perceived social distance between the self and the typical own university student. Ss were 173 undergraduates. Using self-categorization theory, it was predicted that rating the out-group target (the typical student at another university) before the in-group one would reduce the perceived social distance between the self and the latter and lead to a reduction in OB. Both predictions were supported, with OB being eliminated for negative events and attenuated for positive events. In the standard OB condition (in-group first) OB was obtained for both negative and positive events. The findings provide support for perceived social distance in determining OB. The implications for recent arguments that comparisons with an abstract target automatically evoke an 'I am better than average' heuristic or necessarily entail the use of distributional judgmental frameworks are explored. While the automatic linking of abstract targets with heuristic or distributional thinking is called into question, a case is made for integrating these ideas with the self-categorization approach. Where practitioners aim to reduce OB, the findings suggest promoting the perception of the target as a fellow in-group member may help do so. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2008 APA, all rights reserved).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-253
Number of pages19
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Psychology
Volume30 Mar-Apr
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2000


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