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

Planet of the apes

Stephen Cave - Financial Times Comments

What we really know about our evolutionary past – and what we don’t

WALK DARWIN’S TREE OF LIFE ~ 25 - 26...

- - Ancestors Trail Walk Comments

WALK DARWIN’S TREE OF LIFE ~ 26 AUGUST 2012 - event begins on Saturday 25 August

Astrophysicists simulate 14 billion...

Liat Clark - Wired.co.uk Comments

Astrophysicists simulate 14 billion years of cosmic evolution in high resolution

Study casts doubt on human-Neanderthal...

Alok Jha - The Guardian Comments

Cambridge scientists claim DNA overlap between Neanderthals and modern humans is a remnant of a common ancestor

Why do organisms build tissues they...

- - Science Blog Comments

Why, after millions of years of evolution, do organisms build structures that seemingly serve no purpose?

New flat-faced human species possibly...

Charles Choi - CBS News Comments

Four decades ago, in 1972, the Koobi Fora Research Project discovered the enigmatic fossilized skull known as KNM-ER 1470 which ignited a now long-standing debate about how many different species of early Homos existed.

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