Overconfidence: The Icarus Paradox


Hey welcome to stuff to blow your mind. My name is Robert Lamb. And I'm Joe McCormick and we're back with part two of our discussion of overconfidence. That's right If you did not listen to the previous episode do go back and listen to that episode. Because we're GONNA lay the groundwork we're going to discuss overconfidence. Hubris and mythology in human histories. And then get into the psychology of it and what various psychological studies have revealed and continue to reveal about the nature of overconfidence. And how we can. Divide this sort of amorphous concept of overconfidence out into categories that can be more easily studied and understood. That's right now in the last episode one of the main things we talked about was this huge new review of the scientific literature on something known as the better than average effect. Which is the tendency for people to rate themselves as better than average with respect to their peers on all kinds of stuff One classic example is that something like ninety. Three percent of people think they are a better than average driver. And so if you're if you're listening to this as you drive is back on the road and make sure you use the turn signals principle. Stay save lives turn signals. Let other drivers and the districts. No what you intend to do. Even if you think you're a great driver drive like your less good than you are and it will make you a better driver drive like you can't see all the other cars and around you because sometimes you cannot drive like you're driving a murder weapon because potentially you are. It's quite true. Are Now one of the things we talked about it in the last episode was A paper from two thousand seventeen by dawn Amorin Derek. Shots called the three faces of overconfidence which Which actually broke. Overconfidence down into three distinct categories of of bias or misperception and And we talked about those a little bit last time. We're going to be exploring more of what that paper had to say. And it's critiques of overconfidence. Research specifically with reference. To these three types of overconfidence and has a brief refresher. The three types are overestimation over placement and over precision overestimation is thinking that you're better than you are and this would be with reference to some kind of You know objective measure out in the world so if you think you are taller than you are if you think that you can jump higher than you can if you think that you would get a better score on a test than you actually could. That's overestimation the next one over placement is similar but instead it's comparing yourself with other people so the better than average effect would be an example of over placement. It's you know thinking you are better than average compared to your peers at some task or it would be thinking that you know that you work harder than other people or thinking that you are smarter than other people of course with the. If it's overconfidence. Meaning that those are not actually accurate assessments and then finally the other one would be over precision which is being too sure that you know the truth Again this this might be called EPIs- stomach over-confidence it's just being too certain that your beliefs are correct now to get into more and chances paper from two thousand seventeen one of the questions that they address. What actually drives some of these different Effects as as they are manifested so they they start with overestimation what causes us to say think we would get a better score on a test to than we do or to think we have more money in the bank than we do a common answer that people give to this is the idea of wishful thinking. It would feel good if this were true. Therefore I believe it right the authors don't think that this Explanation is very plausible and they offer several problems with it and we can interrogate these. Maybe disagree with them as we go on but first of all they say you know self delusion is demonstrably maladaptive for example a tendency toward wishful thinking about the safety of kissing sharks. So with tongue is is not a trait that the environment will tend to select for people overconfident about their academic abilities. We'll tend not to study and actually do worse people who believe themselves invulnerable. We'll take risks that sometimes get them killed. This might seem obvious but there is actually plenty of research on this. I mean people who are over confident about their abilities. Do face a lot of downsides when those abilities are put to the test right. Yeah I mean one example from literature that comes to mind is that of Macbeth who believes himself protected by prophecy? And of course snuffs it exactly but then again I think okay so it is true that these people will face a Lotta downside but then again people do engage in self destructive self deluded behavior all the time. This is a common feature of human life. Yeah I mean for instance. We were just recently talking about Sepo Affect Our our movie episode. We're talking about the fly and a about the possibility that the placebo effect is is basically due to You know this innate tendency toward self delusion that may very. Well be adaptive in at least in this scenario where yeah we we benefit from being able to believe something is going to work and And experiencing at least a small physical benefit from it like a small cured of benefit from it. And then you know I also can't help but think that you know self-delusion entails far more than just over-confidence it also entails. All manner of paranoia and there is a strong case for the adaptive nature of say making type one error in cognition a false positive the belief that the Russell in the tall grass is that of a tiger. When it's not because of you make the type to air. You're more likely to be eaten by the Tiger. Right right yeah. Having accurate information about the world is actually very useful and having inaccurate information can kill you. Yeah but but I'm not so much you know trying to disagree with the maladaptive Self-delusion argument That we mentioned earlier but but rather you know to point out. The human experiences is rife with self delusion. So might a dash of overconfidence. Even in the form of overestimation serve do balance out this alchemy of of our perception of reality for example. Have a singer in granted cariocas very low stakes right but it could involve social embarrassment which you could fear would lead to ostracism. And that's actually one of the most powerful negative motivators human behavior right but again curiosity is also one of these things. Where like sometimes? It's cool to do it badly. So this is a perfect example. But so you have a carrier. Karaoke singer then imbibe in a little liquid courage before taking the microphone as most Kariuki participants are are want to do but yeah they they get a little liquid courage because they know they don't have the greatest voice in the world and then they feel a little awkward getting up there but but they they know that a little bit of booze induced. Overconfidence might help matters. I think you're exactly right there and this is funny to start here because I think while the authors make tons of good points this is one of the ones they make that I might disagree with the most. I think that there are antagonist adaptations in human behavior. One pressure might favor having an accurate picture of the world. Assessing things in a clear and accurate way while across pressure favor self-deception especially self-deception in the form of overconfidence. For example. You might be more likely to survive if you have accurate assessments of your own abilities but you might be more likely to take big risks with potentially big rewards if you overestimate your abilities Or Self Delusional. Overconfidence could be adaptive. Because it helps us persuade or even deceive other people about are worth. Yeah old ultimately you have to believe in yourself you know other people are not going to believe in you for you right. I mean we. We talked in the last episode about how. It's probably not a coincidence that you really often notice overconfidence in people who occupy high status leadership roles. Right how did they get there? I mean it's not hard to imagine. The overconfidence helped them get to that point. Yeah it's Something it's a fine sometimes terrifying exercise to like if you if you engage with people like this and then when you realize Oh. They're just really overconfident. They don't they're they're not to say they're not skilled but when you realize here is they're not sometimes they're not but sometimes you realize. Oh there. There is this gap between ability. And and and what? They're they're saying they're going to deliver on what they are. Estimating the future will consist of. Yeah I mean I. It is kind of shocking. How often in life? You will suddenly come to a realization that you know the boss. Or the leader whatever's main skill is B. S. ing. Yeah like that they can just go out there and wing it in a way that you would be too timid in reserve to do right now this idea of the accurate assessments playing into our. You know our own abilities i. I couldn't help but think of the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid scenario because really as it relates to two specific points in the film one is the the whole. Would you make that jump if you didn't have to scenario where they're being tracked? They're being hunted and they've come to this cliff overlooking this river and they realized that if they jump if they jump off this cliff may land in that river and they don't die they'll get away because the stakes are such that those pursuing them will not follow them. They will not make that jump if they don't need to. So so there's there's that and then at the very end there's kind of a going out the old fashioned way. Guns a blazing scenario where corner. They're going to slowly be killed and they decided to just go for it to just bust out shooting and just

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