Our never-ending quest for a better social status may be the main driving factor behind confidence and overconfidence, researchers at the University of California in Berkeley's (UCB) Haas School of Business explain.
Very frequently, people who are overconfident are actually less physically talented, less socially adept, and less skilled for the jobs they perform than they believe. It could be that overconfidence is a helpful ally in their quest to move up the ranks, but the foundations for this confidence may be lacking.
Haas experts say that, for example, most college professors (nearly 94 percent) say that they do above-average work with their students. A quick logic test shows that this is statistically impossible, since the performances of most people in a field dictate the average.
The new study therefore raises a very interesting question. If being overconfident has so many serious disadvantages, why is it that it still persists, and permeates the ranks of modern societies to this date?
Obviously, the performances and decision-making abilities of overconfident people are impaired, experts say. One explanation could be that the lure of social status may be responsible for promoting this behavior.
According to Haas School associate professor Cameron Anderson, a coauthor of the new paper, the “studies found that overconfidence helped people attain social status.” Details of the work appear in a paper entitled “A Status-Enhancement Account of Overconfidence.”
University of Navarra IESE Business School assistant professor of managing people in organizations, Sebastien Brion, also contributed to the research, as did Haas associate professor of management Dan Moore, and Wharton School of Business postdoctoral fellow Jessica A. Kennedy.
The paper will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
“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,” explains Anderson, who is the Lorraine Tyson Mitchell Chair in Leadership and Communication II at Haas.
For the purpose of this research, social status was defined as the amount of respect, prominence, and influence that people enjoy in the eyes of others. The study also suggests a reason why less competent employees are oftentimes promoted over better-prepared ones.
Scientists hope that the new study will enable those interested to stop overvaluing unsubstantiated confidence, and look instead for more objective indicators of ability and merit in the people they are responsible for.