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RS 168 - Don Moore on "Overconfidence"

Release date: September 18th, 2016

Don Moore

This episode features a chat with Don Moore, professor of management of organizations at the University of California Berkeley's Haas School of Business, and an expert in overconfidence. Don and Julia discuss the various forms of overconfidence, whether its upsides are big enough to outweigh its downsides, and what people mean when they insist "I think things are better than they really are."

Don's Pick: "Bright‐sided" by Barbara Ehrenreich

Don's Other Pick: "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error" by Kathryn Schulz

Podcast edited by Brent Silk


Full Transcripts 

Reader Comments (13)

I feel that overconfidence and overly optimistic behavior is like a survival trait for many people today. We live in a very competitive society and much of what is marketed and sold to us on a daily basis is about the best and being the best. If people don't convince themselves they are powerful and capable, it will increase the contrast of what they really are and could be perceived as weak or inferior among their peers. Image has become more valued among the majority. It's more about what we identify with in image than the brick and mortar of who we are. Overconfidence and optimism is more of a projected image than what people really feel about themselves at the end of the day.

Someone suggested once to "fake it till you make it." Such a hollow thing to suggest or live by! The only people you'll fool are the ones that buy in to the same motto. A person that has put some real time, work, and skill in would sniff you out quickly.
September 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJustin
If confidence is self assurance. I am over confident in how little I know and the vastness of what could be known. It leaves me surprisingly optimistic.
September 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJay
The classic metaphor of optimism in terms of a positive outlook on life is "seeing the glass as half-full instead of half-empty."

I wonder if procrastination is related to overconfidence about the amount of time needed to do a task.
September 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMax
Finally got around to listening to this one.
I couldn't help but be reminded of the "overconfidence" people have when it comes to marriage and divorce. As the story goes, the overall divorce rate is 40%-50%, but when couples were asked on their wedding day what their odds were all of them unsurprisingly said 0%...
September 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEran
If you ask presidential candidates about their chances of winning the election, nobody will say, "I'll probably lose," because that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, since voters see it as defeatism rather than an objective assessment. So you end up with candidates who sound delusional like Baghdad Bob, predicting victory until suddenly suspending their campaign.
September 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMax
It seems like the topic should have been referred to as overoptimism instead of overconfidence. Overconfidence is, I think, distinct from what was discussed and is its own... pathology, I would say (TMSCS, too much self confidence syndrome). George W. Bush was a classic sufferer. So is Donald Trump.

Also, isn't overoptimism understandable from an evolutionary perspective simply for it's attractiveness? Don't we all want to be around positive people?
September 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCurt Nelson
around minute 23, Moore says that he would not recommend overconfidence as a general treatment or correction because of things we don't know and because there could be a better solution.

But this is basically an argument that our state of ignorance does not allow a recommendation. Wouldn't it apply equally to recommending overconfidence or recommending against overconfidence? We don't know all the possible results of the complex system of our mental makeup. Being overconfident or failing to be overconfident might have net positive or negative results. We don't know. This isn't really that much like writing code.
September 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Pandatshang
I really enjoyed this one. Wished it was 2 hours longer!

I think so many of these issues can be solved by simple rigor in appreciating both realism and possibility. Instead of "I'm 100% confident this business will work" one can simply say: "I'm not sure if this business will work, but I am going to put 100% into it and face every challenge that comes my way to make it work because I'd like to live in a world where this exists." That is realism, confidence, and flexibility.

This kind of nuance would solve the problem of the positive social externalities of individual delusional thinking. We don't need to give up that positive externality if we manage our expectations appropriately and still find the inner resources to commit to creating innovations.

To truth AND possibility. There need not be any quarrel.
September 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterThomas Meli
This podcast reminded me a post about being optimistic related to success and its "scientific reasons" that backed up this reasoning.

Here are the source:

What do you think?
October 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJim Nubiola
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October 10, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterkaushal
I wished the Chesterton challenge or the network of biases hypothesis Julia put forward was given a little more thought. Maybe we are overconfident in our ability to rectify biases without making a mess.

One way in which overconfidence, and also optimism, might be naturally corrected, is that it's more conductive to action. And since trail and error is one of the main ways we learn things, overconfidence might be that which enables us to try things with lower probabilities of succes. One might counterargue that the benefits of learning through trail and error should be weighed in the equation for deciding to take the action at the start. But this is where i think rational thinking has it's limits. We still are biological creatures with certain psychological tendensies that follow from that. We do not like to fail even if we rationally know that failure might have other side benefits. This is even more true if you factor in social context, and social status and the like.

The point is i guess that i share the intuition that this correcting of individual biases seems to be construed to much in a psychological vacuum. Surely human motivation is something that should be accounted for. Maybe we do need some amount of delusion to keep failing in order to eventially succeed?
November 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDiekon
I speculate that the overconfidence of an individual is adaptive for the population (up to a certain level) because they try new things that pay off often enough in ways that benefit the population that shares the individual's genes; but maladaptive for the individual who is likely to bear the whole cost, if that cost is being eaten by a lion.

I'm highly confident that someone else has already proposed this, because it seems so obvious. But I have very low confidence that this idea is actually right, because it looks a lot like group selection, which I know is very problematic and not supported by evidence.

Also, I'm thinking about the "Crazy Eddie" characters in "The Mote in God's Eye". I don't know whether they were overconfident in their crazy schemes, risk tolerant, or if they just out more weight on future risks. I think the last option (alien X-risk awareness campaigners), but they could maybe provide a useful way of thinking about confidence and other ways of thinking that lead to related behaviours.
January 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterChris Waterguy
Seems like we should avoid excessive optimism and excessive pessimism, and instead stay skeptical with a positive attitude.
December 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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