What shapes the vision you have of yourself? More importantly, what motives any inaccurate judgments you have made about yourself? A new study examines one form of faulty self-assessment, overconfidence, and finds people who view intelligence as fixed are more prone to boldness than those with a growth mindset.

Insight is in short supply in our world. More than a few studies show that self-evaluations of social skills, job performance, and intellectual ability correlate poorly with objective measures. Though inaccurate self-assessment can go in either direction, most often it runs toward overestimation, the researchers of the current study note. Most of us, it seems, are way too sure of ourselves.

When it comes to baking a pie, say, or dating, too much self-esteem is pretty innocuous or harmful only to those with a skewed self-image. But in some areas, overconfidence carries important consequences, the researchers say. One example: most people base their health decisions on advice received from doctors, yet studies indicate these professionals, as a group, tend to overestimate their job-related knowledge and skills.

Overconfidence matters. And so a research team from Washington State University, Florida State University, and Stanford decided to examine it.

Reducing Overconfidence

Specifically, the researchers focused on just one type of overconfidence — overplacement. Defined as an overly positive self-perception compared to others, overplacement is particularly detrimental in the realm of education. Anytime we learn a new task, an accurate self-evaluation is important since we need to understand the gap between what we currently know and what we hope to know.

The team, led by Dr. Joyce Ehrlinger, an assistant psychology professor at Washington State University, designed a series of experiments to see who shows overconfidence; and why.

In the first study, participants rated their agreement with statements such as "You have a certain amount of intelligence, and you can't really do much to change it," and "You can always substantially change how intelligent you are." Several days later, the participants completed a multiple-choice test and then, to indicate their confidence level, rated their performance compared to others.

In the second study, participants were randomly assigned to read one of two articles; the "incremental article" conveyed that intelligence is malleable, while the "entity article" purported that intelligence is fixed. As in the first study, the participants then performed a test and rated their performance. And in a third study, participants completed a test before, during a review period, the researchers directed their attention toward either the easy or the difficult problems. After this, the participants rated their performance compared to others.

What did the researchers discover when they analyzed the results?

"A belief in intelligence as fixed promotes greater overconfidence than the opposite belief—that intelligence can be improved," concluded Ehrlinger and her colleagues. Yet they also found participants who believed in fixed intelligence showed reduced overconfidence when they focused on difficulty.

Though not their intention, the researchers say their study provides "intriguing evidence of two effective strategies for reducing overconfidence."

Brash people who want to change should cultivate a growth mindset and focus on the difficult aspects of their tasks. Sadly, conceited people don't think they need fixing.

Source: Ehrlinger J, Mitchum AL, Dweck CS. Understanding overconfidence: Theories of intelligence, preferential attention, and distorted self-assessment. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 2016.