This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

Evolution of Narcissism: Why We're Overconfident, and Why It Works


Outmatched but victorious, the biblical figure David slays Goliath in an artist's conception.
Illustration courtesy of Lebrecht Music and Arts Photo Li/Alamy

Believing you're better than you are may help you succeed, a new study says.

For years, psychologists have observed that people routinely overestimate their abilities, said study leader Dominic Johnson, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Some experts have suggested that overconfidence can be a good thing, perhaps by boosting ambition, resolve, and other traits, creating self-fulfilling prophecies.

But positive self-delusion can also lead to faulty assessments, unrealistic expectations, and hazardous decisions, according to the study—making it a mystery why overconfidence remains a key human trait despite thousands of years of natural selection, which typically weeds out harmful traits over generations.

Now, new computer simulations show that a false sense of optimism, whether when deciding to go to war or investing in a new stock, can often improve your chances of winning.

"There hasn't been a good explanation for why we are overconfident, and this new model offers a kind of evolutionary logic for that," Johnson said.

"It's unlikely to be an accident—we're perhaps overconfident for a good reason."

(Explore an interactive on human evolution.)

Overconfidence Pays Off When Costs Are Low

Johnson and colleague James Fowler, of the University of California, San Diego, developed a model using evolutionary game theory to explore how individuals with different strategies perform in competition with each other.

Read more

TAGGED: BEHAVIOR, EVOLUTION


RELATED CONTENT

Rats Manipulated to be Attracted to Cats

Richard Dawkins - RichardDawkins.net Comments

Rats Manipulated to be Attracted to Cats

R. Elisabeth Cornwell at TAM 2012 -...

- - TAM 2012 - JREF Comments

R. Elisabeth Cornwell at TAM 2012 - Social Networks: Civilizing the Future

Grey parrots use reasoning where...

- - The Royal Society Comments

Research suggesting that grey parrots can reason about cause and effect from audio cues alone- a skill that monkeys and dogs lack- is presented in Proceedings of the Royal Society B today.

Modern culture emerged in Africa 20,000...

Thomas H. Maugh II - LA Times Comments

Modern culture emerged in southern Africa at least 44,000 years ago, more than 20,000 years earlier than anthropologists had previously believed

The Wisdom of Not Being Too Rational

Michael Balter - Science Comments

Studies to examine how children learn tasks that are not obvious and can even be counterintuitive.

Gorilla Youngsters Seen Dismantling...

Ker Than - National Geographic News Comments

After a poacher's snare had killed one of their own, two young mountain gorillas worked together Tuesday to find and destroy traps in their Rwandan forest home

MORE

MORE BY CHRISTINE DELL'AMORE

Gorillas Seen Using "Baby Talk"...

Christine Dell'Amore - National... 4 Comments

Gorillas use a nonvocal form of "baby talk" to communicate with infants, a new study says. A first among primates, the discovery may give insight into how similar human communication evolved.

Fish that "walks"

Christine Dell'Amore - National... 20 Comments

MORE

Comments

Comment RSS Feed

Please sign in or register to comment