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Be Careful With Confidence July 2, 2008

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Human Body, Psychology and Behavior, Think About It.
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We all know that confidence can feel amazing. It might give you that great energy where you believe you can accomplish anything at all. Confidence can encourage us to make certain decisions, meet people and take action. But what about overconfidence? Can that do more harm than good? Sometimes, it can. If a person is overconfident, they might miss some of the key details to watch out for when making a change. For example, being overconfident before a test might mean you don’t spend enough time studying. A business executive might assume an investment is a good idea without making an effort to really think the decision through.

Perhaps the important question involves how we would even go about measuring overconfidence. From a scientific standpoint, it’s not easy to assess overconfidence because this kind of study would rely on the participant to explain how they are overconfident. That’s really subjective and not a very reliable or accurate way to provide results.

Let’s Try Something New

But wait! According to Pascal Mamassian, a researcher at CNRS and Université Paris Descartes, France, overconfidence can indeed be accurately measured. Mamassian believes he has come up with a cool way to handle the problems associated with having participants assess their own overconfidence. How? With a very natural and objective visuo-motor task. If you want to get really geeky, you can check out the full version in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Bring On The Visuo-Motor Task

Computer Confidence Test

So, what did these participants in Mamassian’s study do? Well, they were asked to sit at a computer and press on a key in synchrony with a ‘blob’ that would pop up on the screen. If they pressed the key in synchrony, they were given points for their success. But if they pressed the key too early or late, they lost points. Mamassian decided to use a mathematical model to analyze the way participants manipulated a key tapping strategy, which would help participants gain the most points and reduce the points lost. Now, let’s see what Mamassian found out from the participants!

The Results Are In

Mamassian discovered that the participants regularly didn’t aim for the best time. Instead, they showed overconfidence in their actions. Mamassian explained:

They underestimated the magnitude of their uncertainty and the cost of their error. Overconfidence is not limited to the realm of subjective beliefs and cognitive judgments but appears instead to reflect a general characteristic of human decision making.

So, this means that overconfidence in their abilities led participants to be less careful in assessing their own uncertainty and the consequences of mistakes when completing the task. Because they were overconfident, they didn’t take the time to think of what they needed to do to ensure no mistakes were made. Since they were so confident, they perhaps figured they would just automatically do well. On top of that, they didn’t properly estimate the points they would lose from these mistakes because – well, their overconfidence might have meant that they didn’t expect to make mistakes in the first place!

Now, I think that a little – or sometimes even a lot – of confidence can go a long way in creating good feelings of self-esteem and accomplishment. At the same time, Mamassian’s experimental model is a new and interesting way to judge if someone is overconfident. For now though, it’s not exactly a practical reality for most of us, which means we can’t just access this test to check whether we’re overconfident. A more cautious approach might be to take those confident leaps, but look where you are going. Ultimately, be confident knowing that you can reach your goals, but don’t be overconfident so that you are blinded by all the challenges along the way!

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1. littleman123 - February 15, 2009

well pretty good story now i’ll thank twice about how confedint thanks

2. Miss Weird Scientist - February 16, 2009

Hehe. Well some confidence is a good thing but I guess the idea here is not to go overboard!

3. littleman123 - February 16, 2009

my friends are always have a lot of confidence and try to share they
cheer and every thing like once they were cheering and i got to confident
and didn’t care were the ball went in b-ball and thought i would get it in but i through the ball and it hit the rim and bounced back and hit me in the nose and my nose bled post me back.

4. Miss Weird Scientist - February 16, 2009

Ouch on your nosebleed! It sounds like you really did give a confident swing there!

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