Overconfidence can give you a higher social status

Better than others

Have you been wondering why your less capable colleague got a promotion over you? Maybe, it was overconfidence that made him win!

According to a new study, people who are overconfident and believe they are better than the rest are placed higher in the social ladder even if they are incompetent.

Researchers from the University of California Berkeley found that people who believed they were better were given a higher place in the social ladder.

“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,” Cameron Anderson, associate professor at Haas School said.

Social status was defined as the respect, prominence, and influence individuals enjoy in the eyes of others.

The study suggested why in organisational settings, incompetent people are so often promoted over their more competent peers.

“In organisations, people are very easily swayed by others’ confidence even when that confidence is unjustified,” Anderson said. “Displays of confidence are given an inordinate amount of weight,” Anderson added in a statement.

Anderson said the 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.

The study conducted six experiments to measure why people become overconfident and how overconfidence equates to a rise in social stature. In one study they 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 recognised.

Terms included Maximilien Robespierre, Lusitania, Wounded Knee, Pygmalion, and Doctor Faustus. Some of the names were even made up. These so-called “foils” included Bonnie Prince Lorenzo, Queen Shaddock, Galileo Lovano, Murphy’s Last Ride, and Windemere Wild.

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