Guide Wishful Thinking

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Although children in America generally feel hopeful, all children do not have the same level of hopefulness. At times, gifted children can find themselves in settings that are socially and intellectually stagnant. Gifted students may have a hard time finding intellectual peers and stimulating cognitive challenges commensurate with their abilities in a regular classroom.

School can seem hopeless without goal-setting skills, without identifying paths to attain goals, and with low confidence toward accomplishing goals. Ideally, parents, teachers, and counselors should collaborate to help children develop goal-setting skills. Gifted children need to be active participants in setting their own personal, social, and academic goals. As a child ages, goal setting can become more complex.

Listing and ranking goals can help students learn the skill of prioritizing. Setting multiple goals should be encouraged in middle and high school, as multiple goals offer a fallback position if students encounter an intransigent obstacle.


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Students must also be taught how to identify and set markers of success. Students should identify multiple routes to both small and large goals and practice overcoming obstacles. If a pathway is identified as unfeasible, students must learn the skills to switch lanes and find alternate routes. Motivation, persistence, and performance are undermined if goals are not personally determined. In addition, developing memories of positive experiences, either through personal successes or by the example of others, helps keep gifted children resilient when they face difficulty reaching their goals.

The aim of those who parent and educate gifted kids is to foster academic success and happiness. Hope, when framed as a goal-directed and active process, helps students thrive academically and personally. It is therefore much more than wishful thinking about positive outcomes. When the gifted are able to set goals, see multiple routes to goals, and move toward the attainment of those goals, they have hope for fulfilling their potential. So the next time you use or hear the word hope, think twice about both what it means and your role in helping those who are hopeful.

Editor's note: This is part of a series of blog posts that is collaboratively published every week by the Thomas B. Search Search. Positive Psychology: A Strengths Approach Historically, psychologists have approached the study of psychological well-being from a deficit perspective, focusing on treating and alleviating pathologies.

When comparing high-hope and low hope subjects, high-hopers think more positively about themselves, set higher goals, and select more goals. Have a stronger belief in the likelihood that they will achieve their goals. They focus on success. Possess self-referential beliefs in situations of adversity. On the other hand, individuals lacking hope: Believe that pathways to their goals are unavailable to them; they set low goals and have a sense of uncertainty and failure about being able to achieve their goals. Research on conceptual penetrability utilize stimuli of conceptual-category pairs and measure the reaction time to determine if the category effect influenced visual processing, [16] The category effect is the difference in reaction times within the pairs such as Bb to Bp.

To test conceptual penetrability, there were simultaneous and sequential judgments of pairs.

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The reaction times decreased as the stimulus onset asynchrony increased, supporting categories affect visual representations and conceptual penetrability. Research with richer stimuli such as figures of cats and dogs allow for greater perceptual variability and analysis of stimulus typicality cats and dogs were arranged in various positions, some more or less typical for recognition. Differentiating the pictures took longer when they were within the same category dog a -dog b compared between categories dog-cat supporting category knowledge influences categorization.

Therefore, visual processing measured by physical differential judgments is affected by non-visual processing supporting conceptual penetrability.

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The areas of the brain that motivate wishful seeing and thinking are associated with the same regions that underlie social identification and reward. A study looked at these structures using MRI while participants estimated the winning probabilities for a series of football teams. Prior to this estimation, the individuals specified their favorite, neutral and least favorite NFL teams.

Wishful thinking has been associated with social identity theory where individual seem to prefer in-group members over out-group members. During wishful thinking tasks, differential activity was found in three areas of the brain: dorsal medial prefrontal cortex , the parietal lobe , and the fusiform gyrus in the occipital lobe. Differential activity in the occipital and parietal areas suggests a mode of selective attention to the cues presented; therefore, supporting a lower-level cognitive processing or attention bias.

The prefrontal cortex activity is related to preferences involved in social identification. This identification of self carries hedonic value which in turn stimulates the reward system. Magnocellular M and parvocellular P pathways, which feed into the orbitofrontal cortex , play important roles in top-down processes that are susceptible to cognitive penetrability.

Humans have a physiologically limited visual field that must be selectively directed to certain stimuli. Attention is the cognitive process that allows this task to be accomplished and it might be responsible for the phenomenon of wishful seeing.


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Expectations, desires and fears are among the various factors that help direct attention. In turn, attention can organize planned movement, providing a mechanism through which visual stimuli can influence behavior. Attentional deficits can also lead to altered perceptual experiences. Inattentional blindness , where unexpected events go by undetected, is one such deficit. First, a number cue denoting the number of letters that would appear on the arms of the cross appeared in the center of the cross.

Following the cue, the actual letters would appear on the arms of the cross. Over four trials, the number of letters matched the number that was cued. On the fifth trial, half of the participants were cued to expect a smaller number of letters and half were cued to expect the correct number of letters. The letters then appeared on the screen accompanied by an unexpected stimulus. Participants were asked which letters appeared and whether they had seen any additional object. Participants cued to expect fewer letters were more susceptible to inattentional blindness as they failed to detect the unexpected stimulus more often than participants who had been cued to expect the correct number of stimuli.

These results indicate that attentional capacity is affected by expectations. Although attention can lead to enhanced perceptual processing, the lack of attention to stimuli can also lead to a perceived enhanced perception of the stimuli. They were then presented with stimuli gratings with different textures and then a response cue that indicated the diagonal for which the participants had to judge their perception. The participants were asked to report texture of the gratings that appeared in the response-cue and discriminate its visibility.

This set-up allowed them to compare the perception of attended cued and non-attended stimuli uncued. Therefore, inattention lead to an overestimation of perception sensitivity. Emotion is often interpreted through visual cues on the face, body language and context. Therefore, cultural context can influence how people sample information from a face, just like they would do in a situational context.

For example, Caucasians generally fixate around eyes, nose and mouth, while Asians fixate on eyes. Fixation on different features of the face leads to disparate reading of emotions. This particular difference in visual perception of emotion seems to suggest an attention bias mechanism for wishful seeing, since certain visual cues were attended to e.


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  8. Wishful seeing is also linked to optimism bias through which individuals tend to expect positive outcomes from events despite such expectations having little basis in reality. In order to determine the neural correlates underlying optimism bias, one functional magnetic resonance imaging fMRI study imaged the brains of individuals as they recalled autobiographical moments related to life events and then rated their memories on several scales. These ratings revealed that participants viewed future positive events as more positive than past positive events and negative events as more temporally distant.

    The active brain regions, compared to a fixation point, were the rostral anterior cingulate cortex rACC and the right amygdala. Both of these areas became less active when imagining negative future events. The rACC is implicated in assessing emotional content and has strong connections to the amygdala. It is suggested that the rACC regulates activation in brain regions associated with emotion and autobiographical memory, thus allowing for the projection of positivity onto images of future events. It is important to consider physical aspects such as eye movement and brain activity and their relationship to wishful thinking, wishful seeing, and optimism.

    Isaacowitz investigated the motivational role of gaze, which he claims is highly correlated to an individual's interests and personality. Wishful thinking is often studied in the context of psychology through the application of ambiguous figure studies, the hypothesis being that when presented with an ambiguous stimuli, the participant will interpret the stimuli in a certain way depending on the conditions or priming the participant experiences. Balcetis and Dunning investigated wishful seeing by conducting two experiments, one involving two ambiguous stimuli that could be perceived as "B" or "13", and the other either a horse or a seal.

    The second experiment was a binocular rivalry test in which the participants were presented simultaneously with the letter "H" or number "4" one stimuli in each eye. In each experiment, the experimenters associated one of the stimuli with desirable outcomes, and the other with a negative outcome i. The concept of wishful seeing hints towards a motivation-based perception process.

    Balcetis and Dale further considered that we view the world in biased ways in their four-prong study, one part of which addressed motivated object interpretation using a situation involving the interpretation of an ambiguous object i. Many studies claim that what humans perceive or see is based on our internal motivation and goals, but it is important to consider that some priming situations in certain studies, or even the internal views of the participant, can affect the interpretation of a stimulus.

    The participants were then shown an ambiguous Necker cube on a computer screen and were told to click one of the two blue lines that seemed the closest to them. The line the participants chose depended on whether they determined the cube to be facing upwards or downwards. Similar results were seen in a study conducted by Changizi and Hall , which addressed wishful thinking and goal-oriented object identification by investigating levels of thirst among participants in relation to their tendency to identify an ambiguously transparent stimulus as transparent the study states that transparency is a natural yet unobvious quality directly related to water, a typically clear substance.

    Bastardi, Uhlmann, and Ross , showed the effects of wishful thinking when they presented parents with two fictional studies involving day care versus home care for their children. The parents who were conflicted planned to use day care despite believing home care to be superior more positively rated the "study" that claimed day care as superior and more negatively rated the study that claimed home care was better.

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    The unconflicted parents those that thought home care was superior to day care and planned to use only home care rated the study that claimed home care was better more positively. The parents rated the studies that claimed what they actually planned for their children was the superior action, even though in the case of the conflicted parents the study may have been in opposition to their original beliefs. Balcetis and Dunning used the natural ambiguity found in judging distances to measure the effects of wishful seeing.

    During the study participants judged the distance to various stimuli while the experimenters manipulated the desirability of the stimuli. In one study, participants had their thirst intensified by consuming a large portion of their daily sodium intake or quenched by drinking to satiety. They were then asked to estimate the distance to a bottle of water.

    Those participants who were thirstier ranked the bottle of water as more desirable and viewed it as closer than less thirsty participants. Underthrowing the beanbag indicated that the participant perceived the gift card as closer, while overthrowing the beanbag indicated that the participant perceived the gift card as further away. Their results suggest that there is a positivity bias in the perception of distance. The relationship between distance perception and positivity may be more complicated than originally thought because context can also influence the distortion of perception.

    In fact, in threatening situations, positivity bias may be put aside to enable an appropriate response. In turn, the perceptual exaggerations brought on by threatening stimuli can be negated by psychosocial resources. The participants reported distance measures while the experimenters manipulated the self-worth of the participants through mental imagery exercises, as well as their exposure to threatening a tarantula or non-threatening a cat toy stimuli. An effect of self-worth was only observed upon exposure to the threatening stimuli, when increased self-worth was correlated with a more realistic estimate of the distance to the threatening stimuli.

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    Another common area in which wishful seeing can be observed is through environmental representations. For example, people will perceive desired objects as closer. Distance perception is also effected by cognitive dissonance.

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    To reduce cognitive dissonance in high choice groups the subjects changed their attitude to match the situation.