I Hate To Burst Your Bubble, But…
Are you a great pet owner/guardian? Yes? OK, then check out this video on the “optimism bias:”
According to neuroscientist Tali Sharot, about 80% of us experience optimism bias, which she explains as a tendency to overestimate the likelihood of good events (like getting rich) and to underestimate the likelihood of bad events (like getting cancer), even in the face of clear information to the contrary. Even more intriguing (to me, at least) is that this bias generally shows up as “private” optimism – that is, we’re optimistic about ourselves… but we’re not so optimistic about the guy sitting next to us. In fact, part of the package of private optimism is that it comes with pessimism about our fellow humans and society in general. In this video, Sharot asks the audience how many people think they are in the bottom 50% at getting along with others. The result? You guessed it – only about 10% of the room rated themselves below average. Laughably, Sharot assures us that “it is statistically impossible for all of us to be above average.” And yet, she explains, private optimism is persistent.
So back to you being a great pet owner. If you’re doing adoption counseling and you suffer from optimism bias, you just might be predisposed (and don’t feel badly, because 80% of us are) to be somewhat pessimistic about those potential adopters walking through your doors. You may wonder about their ability to care like you care, to dote like you dote, to go the extra mile – like you do. And herein lies a problem – because in all likelihood, your yardstick is not quite realistic. In fact, when we poll shelter staff (from directors to line staff) in workshops all over the country, we find that the majority of staff have done (are still doing) all kinds of things that could disqualify them from being able to adopt from a lot of organizations. In fact, we find that if we start running through a list of the typical adoption criteria, there’s almost no one in the room who would actually qualify to adopt.
Want to try it? Stand up. Okay, now sit down…
- if you ever had a pet hit by a car
- if you ever lied on an adoption application
- if you ever had to surrender or rehome a pet
- if you ever had a pet in an apartment that didn’t allow that pet
- if you ever fell behind on your pet’s vaccinations
If you’re still standing – congratulations – you just might be perfect, according to typical adoption criteria. If you’re sitting, relax – so are 95% of the other shelter people reading this!
My point isn’t to prove you might not be as great as you think you are, but rather to help you understand that using your image of yourself as the standard for adopters could be turning away (whether directly, or just via less-than-stellar customer service) perfectly good homes that animals really need.
So what’s the answer? According to Sharot, the best way to deal with optimism bias so that it doesn’t cloud your judgment is to simply be aware of the bias. This won’t shatter your positive illusions about yourself, but it will make you more realistic – more willing to entertain the idea that while you are great, you are probably not perfect, AND while that lady who just started an adoption application for Sophie isn’t you, she could be a perfectly okay new mom for Sophie – who, let’s face it, needs to get out of the shelter and have a life!
Tags: Saving Lives