A new study published August 27 in PLoS ONE has found that overconfident individuals tend to get more promotions and climb the corporate ladder faster, but the self-deception that comes with overconfidence also leads to taking more risks, which can have disastrous consequences.
For instance, people who are overconfident in their ability to drive safely often engage in such risk-taking behavior as speeding and passing others on crowded highways, which can result in tragic accidents and even death. Other self-deceptive behaviors, particularly those involving overconfidence in the stock market, or some risky financial investment, can end up causing severe financial loss.
Because overconfident people are more skilled at making their co-workers think they’re more capable than they really are, others often overestimate their abilities, according to British researchers who conducted the study.
The researchers also found that those who lack confidence, or otherwise underestimate their abilities, tend to be perceived similarly by their colleagues who think of them as lacking and less capable than their overconfident counterparts.
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 people or accomplished person that gets rewarded, but the person that projects overconfidence, which is often a person who is self-deceptive.
Nityananda also said that this phenomenon of overconfidence is supportive of “an evolutionary theory of self-deception", although he added that overconfidence does have benefits, such as making others think you’re more talented than you really are.
Nevertheless, he pointed out that the problem with people who are overconfident and self-deceptive is that they tend to take greater risks, which in some cases can lead to potentially lethal consequences.
The study is not without controversy, as it’s based on the theory that self-deception is widespread in human beings. In addition, the findings suggest that overconfident humans are greater risk-takers – and by promoting them, we could be creating institutions like banks and armies that are more vulnerable to risk.