Overconfidence pays when the audience knows the least

Complex Social Consequences of Self-Knowledge

From Social Psychological and Personality Science

Job applicants are taught to project confidence in interviews, but can overconfidence trip them up and put off employers? For this research participants read application materials to join a competitive swim team in one study, and apply for employment in another. Both studies featured two applicants, one overconfident, and the other more modest. Other participants were introduced to make the hiring decision at two points once immediately after reading the applicants’ self-descriptions, and again after information that revealed over-confidence or over-modesty on the part of the applicants. Other participants introduced to make the hiring decision were asked to make a choice at two points, once immediately after reading the applicants’ self-descriptions, and again after information that revealed over-confidence or over-modesty on the part of the applicants. When they had little information but the self-description of the applicants, they overwhelmingly preferred the confident candidate. But then raters obtained new information that revealed the exaggerations of the overconfident applicant, and the rather gentle modesty of the other applicant. In both experiments, there was a significant shift away from the overconfident toward the modest applicant. Whilst the authors recognize that sometimes overconfidence is helpful—positive illusions about one’s self can contribute to mental and physical health and success at school and finding work. But when overly positive beliefs about one’s abilities meet up with reality, one can lose the respect of others. Positive illusions might be good only when others also believe that the illusions are true.

Abstract

Psychology theories disagree on the most effective self-presentation strategies—some claim possessing positive illusions is best, whereas others claim accuracy is best. The current experiments suggest that the role of perceivers and what perceivers believe has been underappreciated in this debate. Participants acted as recruiters for either a swim team (Experiment 1) or a company (Experiment 2) and evaluated hypothetical applicants who made claims about their own abilities and personalities. Overly positive statements about oneself were beneficial only when perceivers had no reason to believe they were unfounded. In addition, conveying self-knowledge was more beneficial than being modest. The results are consistent with the presumption of calibration hypothesis, which states that confidence is compelling because, barring evidence to the contrary, perceivers assume others have good self-insight. Therefore, to make the best impression, people should be as positive as is plausible to perceivers.

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Article details
Tenney, E., & Spellman, B. (2010). Complex Social Consequences of Self-Knowledge Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2 (4), 343-350 DOI: 10.1177/1948550610390965

     
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