A new series of studies of more than 500 students, academics and workers has shown that those who appeared more confident achieved a higher social status than their peers.
These studies, by Prof Cameron Anderson of the University of California’s Berkeley Haas School of Business, have been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
His work has relevance because, in a work environment, higher-status individuals tended to be more admired, listened to, and had more sway over group decisions.
Although workers with big egos will often perform poorly and make more mistakes, their colleagues consistently failed to spot their errors and continue to believed they are “terrific” or “beloved”. Their colleagues also mistake their confidence for talent, so they are often promoted more rapidly than others, and they end up achieving a higher social status than their peers.
Prof Cameron Anderson said that, as a result, “incompetent people are often promoted over their more competent peers”. “Our studies found overconfidence helped people attain social status,” “Those who believed they were better than others, even when they weren’t, were given a higher place in the social ladder, and the motivation to attain higher social status, therefore, triggered overconfidence.”
It’s interesting to note that many of the very confident individuals in their study sincerely believed that they were above average in terms of talent and social skills in their job than was actually the case. In one study 94 per cent of college professors were found to believe that their work was above average!
Prof Anderson said: “In organisations, people are very easily swayed by others’ confidence even when that confidence is unjustified. Displays of confidence are given an inordinate amount of weight.”
In one of their studies, those who made loud claims to know the right answers were held in highest regard, even when they got the answers wrong. Prof Anderson said: “Group members did not think of their high-status peers as overconfident, but simply that they were terrific.”
The studies, in a paper entitled A Status-Enhancement Account of Overconfidence, concluded: “The individuals among us who are elevated to positions of status wield undue influence, have access to more resources, get better information, and enjoy a variety of benefits.”
“Although we may seek to choose wisely, we are often forced to rely on proxies for ability, such as individuals’ confidence. In so doing we, as a society, create incentives for those who would seek status to display more confidence than their actual ability merits.”
Reference: Anderson, C., Brion, S., Moore, D.A., & Kennedy, J.A. (2012, July 16). A Status-Enhancement Account of Overconfidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Doi: 10.1037/a0029395.