Why are people overconfident so often?
Researchers have long known that people are very frequently overconfident that they tend to believe they are more physically talented, socially adept, and skilled at their job than they actually are. For example, 94% of college professors think they do above average work (which is nearly impossible, statistically speaking). But this overconfidence can also have detrimental effects on their performance and decision-making. So why, in light of these negative consequences, is overconfidence still so pervasive?
The lure of social status promotes overconfidence, explains Haas School Associate Professor Cameron Anderson. He co-authored a new study, "A Status-Enhancement Account of Overconfidence," with Sebastien Brion, assistant professor of managing people in organizations, IESE Business School, University of Navarra, Haas School colleagues Don Moore, associate professor of management, and Jessica A. Kennedy, now a post-doctoral fellow at the Wharton School of Business. The study will be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).
"Our studies found that overconfidence helped people attain social status. People who believed they were better than others, even when they weren't, were given a higher place in the social ladder. And the motive to attain higher social status thus spurred overconfidence," says Anderson, the Lorraine Tyson Mitchell Chair in Leadership and Communication II at the Haas School.
Social status is the respect, prominence, and influence individuals enjoy in the eyes of others. Within work groups, for example, higher status individuals tend to be more admired, listened to, and have more sway over the group's discussions and decisions. These "alphas" of the group have more clout and prestige than other members. Anderson says these research findings are important because they help shed light on a longstanding puzzle: why overconfidence is so common, in spite of its risks. His findings suggest that falsely believing one is better than others has profound social benefits for the individual.
Moreover, these findings suggest one reason why in organizational settings, incompetent people are so often promoted over their more competent peers. "In organizations, people are very easily swayed by others' confidence even when that confidence is unjustified," says Anderson. "Displays of confidence are given an inordinate amount of weight."
The studies suggest that organizations would benefit from taking individuals' confidence with a grain of salt. Yes, confidence can be a sign of a person's actual abilities, but it is often not a very good sign. Many individuals are confident in their abilities even though they lack true skills or competence.
The authors conducted six experiments to measure why people become overconfident and how overconfidence equates to a rise in social stature. For example:
In Study 2, the researchers examined 242 MBA students in their project teams and asked them to look over a list of historical names, historical events, and books and poems, and then to identify which ones they knew or recognized. Terms included Maximilien Robespierre, Lusitania, Wounded Knee, Pygmalion, and Doctor Faustus. Unbeknownst to the participants, some of the names were made up. These so-called "foils" included Bonnie Prince Lorenzo, Queen Shaddock, Galileo Lovano, Murphy's Last Ride, and Windemere Wild. The researchers deemed those who picked the most foils the most overly confident because they believed they were more knowledgeable than they actually were. In a survey at the end of the semester, those same overly confident individuals (who said they had recognized the most foils) achieved the highest social status within their groups.
It is important to note that group members did not think of their high status peers as overconfident, but simply that they were terrific. "This overconfidence did not come across as narcissistic," explains Anderson. "The most overconfident people were considered the most beloved."
Study 4 sought to discover the types of behaviors that make overconfident people appear to be so wonderful (even when they were not). Behaviors such as body language, vocal tone, rates of participation were captured on video as groups worked together in a laboratory setting. These videos revealed that overconfident individuals spoke more often, spoke with a confident vocal tone, provided more information and answers, and acted calmly and relaxed as they worked with their peers. In fact, overconfident individuals were more convincing in their displays of ability than individuals who were actually highly competent.
"These big participators were not obnoxious, they didn't say, 'I'm really good at this.' Instead, their behavior was much more subtle. They simply participated more and exhibited more comfort with the task even though they were no more competent than anyone else," says Anderson.
Two final studies found that it is the "desire" for status that encourages people to be more overconfident. For example, in Study 6, participants read one of two stories and were asked to imagine themselves as the protagonist in the story. The first story was a simple, bland narrative of losing then finding one's keys. The second story asked the reader to imagine him/herself getting a new job with a prestigious company. The job had many opportunities to obtain higher status, including a promotion, a bonus, and a fast track to the top. Those participants who read the new job scenario rated their desire for status much higher than those who read the story of the lost keys.
After they were finished reading, participants were asked to rate themselves on a number of competencies such as critical thinking skills, intelligence, and the ability to work in teams. Those who had read the new job story (which stimulated their desire for status) rated their skills and talent much higher than did the first group. Their desire for status amplified their overconfidence.
De-emphasizing the natural tendency toward overconfidence may prove difficult but Prof. Anderson hopes this research will give people the incentive to look for more objective indices of ability and merit in others, instead of overvaluing unsubstantiated confidence.
More information: See the present version of the full paper at haas.berkeley.edu/… nfidence.pdf
Journal reference: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Provided by University of California - Berkeley
- Think you're a comic genius? Maybe you're just overconfident Jul 27, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Respect matters more than money for happiness in life Jun 20, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- The perils of overconfidence Jun 30, 2008 | not rated yet | 0
- Study: Self-delusion may be a winning survival strategy Sep 14, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Does power cloud one's ability to make good decisions? Mar 01, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
How can there be a term called "intestinal metaplasia" of stomach
12 hours ago Hello everyone, Ok Stomach's normal epithelium is simple columnar, now in intestinal type of adenocarcinoma of stomach it undergoes "intestinal...
Pressure-volume curve: Elastic Recoil Pressure don't make sense
May 18, 2013 From pressure-volume curve of the lung and chest wall (attached photo), I don't understand why would the elastic recoil pressure of the lung is...
If you became brain-dead, would you want them to pull the plug?
May 17, 2013 I'd want the rest of me to stay alive. Sure it's a lousy way to live but it beats being all-the-way dead. Maybe if I make it 20 years they'll...
MRI bill question
May 15, 2013 Dear PFers, The hospital gave us a $12k bill for one MRI (head with contrast). The people I talked to at the hospital tell me that they do not...
Ratio of Hydrogen of Oxygen in Dessicated Animal Protein
May 13, 2013 As an experiment, for the past few months I've been consuming at least one portion of Jell-O or unflavored Knox gelatin per day. I'm 64, in very...
Alcohol and acetaminophen
May 13, 2013 Edit: sorry for the typo in the title , can't edit I looked around on google quite a bit and it's very hard to find precise information on the...
- More from Physics Forums - Medical Sciences
More news stories
(HealthDay)—The monstrous tornado that devastated Moore, Okla., on Monday, killing dozens of adults and children, is a stunning example of violent weather that can affect a child's mental well-being.
Psychology & Psychiatry 3 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Youth who had a schoolmate die by suicide are significantly more likely to consider or attempt suicide, according to a study in published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). This effect can last 2 years or mo ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 6 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Johns Hopkins researchers say they have discovered specific chemical alterations in two genes that, when present during pregnancy, reliably predict whether a woman will develop postpartum depression.
Psychology & Psychiatry 14 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
A Mediterranean diet with added extra virgin olive oil or mixed nuts seems to improve the brain power of older people better than advising them to follow a low-fat diet, indicates research published online in the Journal of ...
Psychology & Psychiatry May 20, 2013 | 3.5 / 5 (2) | 2
More people are being diagnosed with eating disorders every year and the most common type is not either of the two most well known—bulimia or anorexia—but eating disorders not otherwise specified (eating disorders that ...
Psychology & Psychiatry May 20, 2013 | not rated yet | 0
An experimental sleeping pill from US drug company Merck is effective at helping people fall and stay asleep, according to reviewers at the US Food and Drug Administration, which could soon approve the new drug.
1 hour ago | not rated yet | 0
The gap between life expectancy in patients with a mental illness and the general population has widened since 1985 and efforts to reduce this gap should focus on improving physical health, suggest researchers in a paper ...
29 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0
29 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0
Dietary advice on added sugar is damaging our health, warns a cardiologist in BMJ today. Dr. Aseem Malhotra believes that "not only has this advice been manipulated by the food industry for profit but it is actually a risk ...
29 minutes ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0
Failure to use linked electronic health records may lead to biased estimates of heart attack incidence and outcome, warn researchers in a paper published in BMJ today.
29 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0
A study of around 1,000 UK mothers and their children, published in The Lancet, has revealed that iodine deficiency in pregnancy may have an adverse effect on children's mental development. The research raises concerns that t ...
29 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0