Why overconfidence can be a bad thing
A new study finds overconfident people can be self-deceptive.
We can all be deceptive from time to time, with others and with ourselves, but according to a new study published today in PLoS ONE, self-deception can lead us to being overconfident in our abilities, which can result in disastrous consequences.
For example, overconfidence in our ability to drive safely among other drivers who are speeding and passing us by, can potentially lead to fatal car accidents. Other self-deceptive behaviors, such as being overconfident about an investment, can end up having dire financial consequences.
The study found that overconfident people are also more skilled at making others think they have greater abilities than they really do. While this can help overconfident people get better jobs and move higher up on the corporate ladder, it can likewise lead to self-deception; thus, causing such people to take more risks, not to mention overestimate the abilities of other people.
Researchers for the study also found that those who lack confidence, or otherwise underestimate their abilities, tend to be perceived by others as also lacking and less capable by their co-workers.
For the study, 72 university students were requested to make predictions about a couple of things on the first day of a class they took: 1) what final grade they would end up getting in the class; and 2) what final grade their fellow classmates would get when the class was over.
As a result, researchers found that just 15 percent of the students were accurate in their predictions, with 45 percent underestimating their scores while 40 percent overestimated their scores due to overconfidence.
Interestingly, those who predicted they would get higher final grades themselves, were also predicted by fellow classmates that they would get higher grades, regardless of whether their predictions came true or not.
According to the study’s co-lead researcher and author, Vivek Nityananda, the team’s findings show that it’s not necessarily the most talented or accomplished person who gets rewarded, but the person who appears the most confident, even if they're actually overconfident and self-deceptive.
Nityananda added that the projection of overconfidence seems to support “an evolutionary theory of self-deception", although he admitted that being overconfident can have benefits, such as leading others to think you're more talented than you really are.
Nevertheless, he pointed out that the problem with overconfidence, or self-deceptive behavior, is that it generally causes people to take more risks.
The study is not without controversy, as it’s based on the theory that self-deception is widespread in human beings. Moreover, the findings suggest that overconfident humans are greater risk-takers. Therefore, by promoting such individuals, we could be creating institutions like banks and armies that are more vulnerable to risk.
SOURCE: PLoS ONE, Self-Deceived Individuals Are Better at Deceiving Others, Lamba S, Nityananda V, published August 27, 2014, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0104562