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November 24, 2011


 Luis Enrique

I think this is very true - and confidence is rolled up in expectations, and more generally what you can "see yourself doing". We all know it's easier to see yourself at university or as a company director, if this is what your peer group does.

It's like a centre forward in football - you score goals if you attempt to, which means you need to believe you are capable of it.

I also think there's something related to confidence which is very important, I don't like the word but I can think of no better: being proactive. The people I know who have done well tend to see the world as a place in which they can make things happen, and they exert effort making things happen, which is a sort of confidence, whereas others are more reactive, and whilst they may take opportunities when they present themselves but do not put themselves about, being pushy.

I don't like calling such people "over" confident - the people I have in mind get lots of knock-backs, but they keep trying. Perhaps they do overrate their probability of success in a single shot, but this is a repeated shot game and perhaps their belief in their ability to succeed eventually is warranted. Equally, giving up too easily does not make you a clear-eyed realist in contrast to those "over confident" types.


I agree with the meat of your argument but not your conclusion.

What's your alternative?

Is there a mind reading machine that can achieve a truly objective assessment of someone's ability?

You could also argue that self confidence is intrinsically linked to your sexual prowess so are we planning to start "re-allocating" sexual partners?

At the end of the day there's only so far you can go to "correct" people's inherent flaws...


Not sure why you associate overconfidence with being "posh". Most of the truly self hating individuals I know come from relatively privileged backgrounds.

 Luis Enrique


the difference is very evident when teaching undergraduates - public school boys are much more likely to volunteer answers and/or be more relaxed when asked a direct question.


@ Johnnydub - the point is that the flaws of over and under confidence are NOT inherent, but are an artefact of parental class (see links in that quote, and more cited in the paper).
My alternative is either to reject the very notion of meritocracy and equality of opportunity as impossible, or to otherthrow class distinctions by very radical redistribution.

 Luis Enrique


"My alternative is either to reject the very notion of meritocracy and equality of opportunity as impossible"

I don't understand this - nobody imagines everybody has an equal opportunity to be a famous footballer, but you may still be a famous footballer on merit. Confidence may be one of the things that merits success. If successful people then have confident offspring, does intergenerational transmission of "things that merit success" mean "meritocracy" is meaningless? Might not talented sportspeople also breed talented sportschildren? Or rather, do "things that merit success" have to be distributed independently of parent characteristics in order for meritocracy to exist?


People misperceive overconfidence as actual ability.

This is true but then again, that confidence enables one to gain those skills to become able, then with experience, as he has the job, he becomes better.

 Luis Enrique

sorry I am expressing myself poorly.

some determinants of success are obviously correlated with parent characteristics - intelligence for instance. But intelligence is something that merits success, so its intergenerational transmission does not undermine meritocracy.

other determinants, like being able to work at Daddy's firm, are regarded as not meriting success but delivering success via enjoying an unfair advantage. Intergenerational transmission of unfair advantage does undermine meritocracy.

the question I should have asked is why do you think confidence is the latter, not the former? I'd have thought that if your parents bring you up to be hard working etc. that also merits success, is correlated with parental characteristics, and is compatible with meritocracy. Isn't being brought up to be confident more like this, as opposed to having an unfair advantage?


"Overconfident people might select into occupations where there’s a high pay-off to the lowish probability of success, such as management, law journalism or politics. Less confident folk, under-estimating their chances, might prefer occupations which yield less skewed rewards."

Couldn't this be used to argue the opposite point (and the same general point as your X-factor post below)? Being overconfident makes one more likely to put oneself in a situation in which one will fail?


Maybe one (important) step towards the end of meritocracy was taken the day the progressive forces adopted the constructivist theories in education.
Since the school became a place where learning took a second place, the 'posh white blokes', that already have the education home, had a clear advantage. Plasticine does not make you equals.
Once again, an unintended result: a supposedly egalitarian attitude brought a more classist school.

Faith Homes

Self- confidence is important factor in earning someone else's and trust. From that point of view it is not bad to be confident as long it is in resonable terms. Otherwise you risk becoming arrogant and even disdainful.

Silence Is Golden

I rather feel that you've failed to distinguish between overconfidence which you clearly regard as a pernicious ill of the world today, and common or garden confidence, which is fundamentally important in enabling people to achieve their potential.

This article could be equally well read as a plea to equip people with the drive to follow through on their aspirations. You do tend, however, to take the view that anything which enables those who achieve significant success to achieve it is a problem which society should address, rather than seek to exploit.

 Luis Enrique

fwiw, I just had a conversation with somebody who has researches youth attitudes, and they disputed over-confidence is correlated with class. They said wealthier kids are more confident but they are also higher ability (if you are just asking kids about their own academic ability) and when you control for attainment, the extent to which youths over estimate their own ability is, if anything, greater lower down the socioeconomic status

 Luis Enrique

although I should have noted that paper you start the post with refers to self-confidence, not over-confidence.

Curt Doolittle

Funny. But since, over time, people in careers sort by IQ, it's pretty obvious that social mobility is a function of genetics. It's not complicated. In the middle the sorting is somewhat random because it's irrelevant, but the upper and lower quintiles exist for entirely biological reasons.

Social classes are, pretty much, sorted by IQ. The 'white' statistical benefit in IQ is almost entirely a product of the white middle class. It's just genetic.

Confidence comes from having one's theories pan out. If one has silly ideas they don't pan out.

Humans are not even marginally equal.


Interesting that everyone here seems to live in a little world of white men. There is no attempt to think about how this "confidence effect" might affect the life chances of those who know the odds are stacked against them -- women and non-white men for starters. Arrogant white men see no reason to change a system that favours arrogant white men -- who cares about real relevant merit?

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