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A few times over the last few months I have talked about overconfidence and wondered how so many people could think they’re above average. Well, it turns out (or at least some scientists are arguing) it’s a good evolutionary strategy:

In fact, if the potential reward is at least twice as great as the cost of competing, then overconfidence is the best strategy. In fact, overconfidence is actually advantageous on average, because it boosts ambition, resolve, morale, and persistence. In other words, overconfidence is the best way to maximize benefits over costs when risks are uncertain.

So by being overconfident you can sometimes beat the odds and actually achieve that which you otherwise probably shouldn’t (at least that’s how I understand it). Seems simple enough, I guess.

September 25, 2009


  • Jon Spooner says:

    “Seems simple enough, I guess?”

    No No No have you not read anything?

    “Seems simple enough, and so it shall be.”

  • michael netter says:

    Any behavior that is prevalent can be explained as a good survival strategy. If we made mistakes on this front, we would not survive.

  • Ian Sohn says:

    I knew all this already as I am easily one of the most above average people I know … I’m at least a B- or even a B on good days.

  • Ana Andjelic says:

    hey things actually may be more complex than that – i remembered Enron’s “smartest guys in the room” and also the impact of the traders’ overconfidence on the crash of the financial system a year ago … in these instances overconfidence was actually hazardous.

    however, wondering if there’s a difference between the “kinds” of overconfidence: traders’ overconfidence was a result on their reliance on tools – the ever-evolving mathematical models they used.

  • Rich Sullivan says:

    Maybe optimism is a more accurate descriptor?

  • barbara says:


  • Noah Brier says:

    @Ana: Right, overconfidence can certainly be dangerous, but on average it does more good than harm for you. I guess the other point of this is that from an evolutionary perspective, it doesn’t matter what effect overconfidence has on the system, it only matters what effect is has on yourself (or your genes, as Dawkins would argue). None of those Wall Street …

    @Rich: Interesting … Gotta think about that one. My first reaction is that optimism doesn’t seem like a very good evolutionary strategy, as it could leave you in some bad situations. Also, looking around, it seems that there are entirely too many pessimists for optimism to be the way. Maybe more like realism about the situation, overconfidence about your approach to it. Just thinking off the cuff here, you make a good point.

  • Ana Andjelic says:

    Right, right – that’s fine.

    What I am wondering about is whether tehnology changes our “genes” so we become “overconfident” as a result not only of “natural impulses for survival” but because of tools we have on our disposal. (Think warfare)

    Anyway, just crossed my mind!

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