Less confidence or self-confidence?
According to a study carried out at the University of Alberta, the lack of confidence in our skills in a specific task or activity seems to be stemming from the exaggeration of the skills of others.
The results of this study may offer leaders some ideas on how to resist self-doubt in the face of a challenging task.
Previous research showed that people tend to predict that they would show a better performance than others in a number of tasks and activities, especially when the tasks are easy. A classic example is a piece of research, in which 93% of the drivers in the USA in 1981 claimed that they were better than the average.
On the other hand, many people tend to predict that they would do better than others in challenging tasks as well.
In order to make sense of these various findings, according to which people expect that they would achieve a better result than others whether the task is challenging or not, a study researched how runners expected to run before a timed race.
The researchers chose a challenging mountain race track, with uphill distances ranging between 10 to 78 kilometers. The researchers found out that the runners, particularly those with excessive self-confidence, who incorrectly predicted that their finish time would be better than the average upon checking the age, sex, and running experience parameters, were essentially channeled by exaggerating their own performances.
Meanwhile, the runners who predicted that they would show a worse performance that the average, namely those who have no trust in their skills, firmly understood their own performances, but expected much more from their opponents.
Gerald Häubl, one of the researchers, said “Our study defines two different sources of prejudice, or two different reasons why people cannot be calibrated well: those who had prejudices in their self-evaluation, and those who were prejudiced in evaluating others.”
Furthermore, the group with no self-confidence was not only quite accurate in predicting their own performances, but also tended to be the individuals above the average.
Häubl also said that lack of self-confidence, which can be interpreted as the “Impostor Syndrome” (impostor syndrome: I did not deserve these achievements, etc.), can be generally useful at the workplace, especially if it motivates people to work more.
It is possible to say that the problem with the lack of confidence is the fact that it can prevent people, who really have the potential to be successful in something, from even trying, because they falsely believe that there are many people who are better than themselves.
In this study, the people who exaggerated their own performances were observed to be the ones who tended to be below the average.
Häubl said “This final result is in parallel with previous research that show unskilled people tend to exaggerate their performances.” He also said that this overconfidence can be a good or bad thing, depending on whether it turns into a higher or lower motivation, and therefore into a desired result. Some of the greatest achievements of humanity were probably emboldened by some sort of overconfidence. However, there were also some of the greatest failures of humanity.
“In the most general sense, a well-adjusted confidence, which is based on an accurate evaluation of both one’s skills and others’ skills, is something that people must strive to achieve.
– Engeler, I., & Häubl, G. (2021). Miscalibration in predicting one’s performance: Disentangling misplacement and misestimation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 120(4), 940–955.