The evolution of overconfidence

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  • #1
BWV
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Its well documented that people generally are overconfident of their abilities - a recent paper in Nature speculates how it became an adaptive trait:

The evolution of overconfidence

Dominic D. P. Johnson & James H. Fowler


Confidence is an essential ingredient of success in a wide range of domains ranging from job performance and mental health to sports, business and combat. Some authors have suggested that not just confidence but overconfidence—believing you are better than you are in reality—is advantageous because it serves to increase ambition, morale, resolve, persistence or the credibility of bluffing, generating a self-fulfilling prophecy in which exaggerated confidence actually increases the probability of success.However, overconfidence also leads to faulty assessments, unrealistic expectations and hazardous decisions, so it remains a puzzle how such a false belief could evolve or remain stable in a population of competing strategies that include accurate, unbiased beliefs. Here we present an evolutionary model showing that, counterintuitively, overconfidence maximizes individual fitness and populations tend to become overconfident, as long as benefits from contested resources are sufficiently large compared with the cost of competition. In contrast, unbiased strategies are only stable under limited conditions. The fact that overconfident populations are evolutionarily stable in a wide range of environments may help to explain why overconfidence remains prevalent today, even if it contributes to hubris, market bubbles, financial collapses, policy failures, disasters and costly wars

The finding that the optimal level of bias increases with the magnitude of
uncertainty is especially intriguing. It suggests that we should expect extreme levels of
overconfidence (hubris) or underconfidence (fear) precisely when we are dealing with
unfamiliar or poorly understood strategic contexts. We predict that—where the value of
a prize sufficiently exceeds the costs of competing—overconfidence will be particularly
prevalent in some very important domains that have inherently high levels of
uncertainty, including: international relations (where events are complex, distant, and
involve foreign cultures and languages), rare or unpredictable phenomena (such as
natural disasters and climate change), novel or complex technologies (such as the
internet bubble and modern financial instruments), and new and untested leaders, allies,
and enemies. Although overconfidence may have been adaptive in our past, and may
still be adaptive in some settings today, it appears that we are likely to become
overconfident in precisely the most dangerous of scenarios.


http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/0909/0909.4043.pdf
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
If memory serves from the social psychology lectures I watched this a well known attribute type of bias where people over rate skills which are highly valued (i.e. such as social skills or morality). On the flip side people can underrate their qualities (relative to the average) on things which aren’t as socially desired or thought of as difficult. Competition would certainly play a factor for a given demographic if the sought after attribute is important to the goals of many people in that demographic.
 
  • #3
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We have all seen an overconfident guy get the girl.

Some might think ''Where does he get off acting like that? He's not smart, good-looking, rich, or anything, but he acts like he's the boss and the girl just believed him... What the...''

Well, there you go.
 
  • #4
Bobbywhy
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The tall square-jawed muscular guy on the beach kicks sand onto the shy skinny nerd and grabs the bikini-clad girl. He is actually saying "mate with me, I have good genes". This is called "reproductivie succes" and seems to be based on overconfidence.

But the skinny nerd may later win the Nobel Prize, so the propagation of his genes would be of value to the society also. The girl needs to figure this out before mating.
 
  • #5
466
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The tall square-jawed muscular guy on the beach kicks sand onto the shy skinny nerd and grabs the bikini-clad girl. He is actually saying "mate with me, I have good genes". This is called "reproductivie succes" and seems to be based on overconfidence.

But the skinny nerd may later win the Nobel Prize, so the propagation of his genes would be of value to the society also. The girl needs to figure this out before mating.

The girl doesn't need to figure anything out. Human evolution has her attraction-circuits figured out already.

The person who needs to figure it out is the skinny nerd.
 
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  • #6
Ryan_m_b
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Moved to biology.
 
  • #7
BWV
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Moved to biology.


Why? this is a social science article by two political scientists who discuss overconfidence as a learned behavior:

Rather than relying on genetic mutation and natural selection over
many generations, overconfidence in humans can emerge and spread much more rapidly
by other means such as trial and error, imitation, or learning (which may also generate
considerable variation among different “ecological” contexts such as habitats, cultures,
or organizations). These processes of cultural selection may affect the way strategies
emerge, survive and spread today among interacting entities, whether individuals,
groups, negotiators, lawyers, traders, banks, sports teams, firms, armies, or states.
 
  • #8
Ryan_m_b
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Why? this is a social science article by two political scientists who discuss overconfidence as a learned behavior

Any paper that states to offer a model for the evolution of a trait is best discussed in the forum for which evolution is a discipline. This increases the chances of attracting posters who know the subject. Whilst there are likely cultural factors and social consequences this thread has already generated discussion on how overconfidence links to reproductive success and thus would be best suited to a biological discussion.
 
  • #9
bobze
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This is the application (and possible explanation?) of a rather well known phenomena: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect" [Broken].

Very interesting effect responsible for many a misguided soul's leap to anti-intellectualism :)

Good to see evolutionary psychology doing science.
 
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  • #10
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As far as being confident that something's a predator, its evolutionarily better to lean toward the idea that it is.
 
  • #11
BWV
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881
This is the application (and possible explanation?) of a rather well known phenomena: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect" [Broken].

Very interesting effect responsible for many a misguided soul's leap to anti-intellectualism :)

Good to see evolutionary psychology doing science.


but this is also a rational response under bounded rationality (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bounded_rationality)

thinking is costly hence humans tend to rely on heuristics when either the level of uncertainty is high or the payoff for heavy thinking is not worth the cost
 
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