Limited Access to Feedback as Contributors to Overconfidence
My work identifies factors that limit our ability to know when we have made a mistake and, consequently, to understand when modesty might be merited.
Recognizing mistakes is a non-trivial task and, often, one that requires competence. For example, in intellectual domains, the knowledge and understanding that leads to strong performance is also necessary to recognize if one is performing poorly. Competence begets insight into one’s successes and failures. In contrast, those with less skill also lack the knowledge necessary to recognize when they make mistakes. As a consequence, the unskilled are often unaware and, indeed, vastly overconfident relative to objective measures. As many teachers can attest, failing students are often surprised by their poor performance on course exams. I have shown that the unskilled remain unaware and overconfident regarding their performances in college courses, debate tournaments, and, perhaps most frighteningly, firearm competitions (Ehrlinger, Johnson, Banner, Dunning, & Kruger, 2008). Further, I provide direct evidence that this overconfidence stems from an absence of competence rather than a statistical artifact or motivated bias. Without the knowledge necessary to recognize when they have made mistakes, those who lack skill simply are unequipped to make accurate assessments of performance.
Limited Social Feedback
Another way that people learn about themselves — about their triumphs and their mistakes — is through social feedback. Social interactions can provide a looking glass through which people learn about the self, but they can also feature misleading feedback. I have demonstrated that people readily offer positive feedback but hide their negative reactions to others. While this positivity bias carries many benefits, it can also keep people from learning about their mistakes and, consequently, contributes to overly positive self-judgments. My students and I tested this hypothesis through a set of social interaction studies in which participants were asked to tell jokes to a partner or to explain their viewpoint on a controversial topic (Fay*, Ehrlinger, & Goplen*, Under Review; Fay*, Jordan, & Ehrlinger, 2012). As one might expect, participants’ actual performance on these tasks varied greatly. However, the feedback that participants received was surprisingly uniform. As a result, participants were overconfident when estimating how positively they were perceived. In a final study, people offered less polite feedback and partners made more accurate self-assessments in a condition that minimized normative pressures to be polite. Taken together, this work suggests that politeness comes at a cost by limiting the feedback necessary to make accurate self-judgments.
*denote current or former graduate student co-authors
Ehrlinger, J. (2008). Self-views and self theories as sources of error in self-assessment. Compass: Social and Personality Psychology, 2, 382-398 [pdf]
Ehrlinger, J., Johnson, K.L., Banner*, M., Dunning, D.A., & Kruger, J. (2008). Why the unskilled are unaware: Further explorations of (absent)
self-insight among the incompetent. Organizational
Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 105, 98-121.[pdf]
Ehrlinger J. & Dunning, D.A. (2003). How chronic
self-views influence (and mislead) estimates of performance. Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 5-17. [pdf]
Fay*, A.J., Jordan, A.H., & Ehrlinger, J. (2012). How social norms promote misleading social feedback and inaccurate self-assessment. Compass: Social and Personality Psychology, 6(2), 206-216. [pdf]
Fay*, A.J., Ehrlinger, J., & Goplen*, J.L. (2012). Polite Social Feedback as a Contributor to Overconfidence. Manuscript Under Review at the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Florida State University. [request a copy]
Dunning, D.A., Johnson, K.L., Ehrlinger, J., & Kruger, J. (2003) Why
people fail to recognize their own incompetence. Current Directions
in Psychological Science, 12, 83-87. [pdf]