Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Study finds overconfidence beats being accurate

Marina Bartel/Thinkstock

If you think the younger generations seem more cocksure than ever, science may prove you right.

Researchers believe evolution likely favours overconfidence, UPI reports, as a new study shows that having an overly positive self-image tends to win out over more accurate assessments in sports, business and war.

The researchers from University of Edinburgh and University of California, San Diego, simulated the effects of overconfidence over generations, using a mathematical model. They compared the outcomes of overconfident strategies against accurate and under-confident strategies, and found that being overconfident frequently works to one's advantage, as long as the rewards outweigh the risks. People with unbiased, accurate perceptions, on the other hand, usually fare worse, UPI says.

Story continues below advertisement

The research suggests that over time, natural selection favours those who have an overly positive self-image over those who are insecure.

The hitch is overconfidence only pays off when the rewards outweigh the costs of competing for them. So, if the cost of competition is more than the prize is worth, you're probably better off erring on the side of caution. The 2008 financial crash and the 2003 Iraq war are cited as examples of when overconfidence backfires.

"The question now is how to channel human overconfidence so we can exploit its benefits while avoiding occasional disasters," researcher Dominic Johnson said.

When has being overconfident worked for you?

Report an error
About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.