Realistic lack of confidence

Shyness_Of_angel copyMany researchers have duplicated the finding that women are more likely to show less confidence than men. Women are told if they want to make their mark in business, in politics, or any field they need to believe in themselves and show confidence like men do.[1] But that may not be best tactic to pursue.

Research showing disparity of confidence based on gender is often structured in a similar manner. Men and women of similar background or education level are given a task (often an assessment), followed by an inquiry of how well they thought they did. Women typically underestimated their performance. But the average male does not correctly estimated this, either. The majority of men are over confident, assuming that they performed better than they actually did. In research based on performance on set of math problems, Ernesto Reuben, a professor at Columbia Business School, found men consistently rated work about 30 percent better than their real scores.[2]

This trend also occurs in the daily life and the workplace in areas of math, technology, business and finance. Overconfidence doesn’t consistently lead men to success. Take the example of two studies. Barber and Odean (2001) found overconfident investors trade more often. The average turnover rate of common stocks for men higher than for women, nearly one and a half times as much. Because of this men reduce profits unnecessarily.[3] University College London research observing the results of male and female hedge-fund managers showing that investments run by less confident, more conservative female managers outperform those run by male managers.[4]

So why do men continue to show overconfidence in face of decreasing results? Psychologists David Dunning, (Cornell) and Joyce Ehrlinger, (Washington State University) noted that when failure occurred men who over estimated their ability were more likely to claim that events outside of their control, while women were more likely to blame themselves.[5] The ironic finding in Ernesto Reuben’s research is that the men who over-rated their ability seem to have honestly convinced themselves that they were better at math than they actually were. Women tend to deviate from the truth to make themselves more likable through flattery, promote themselves through discrediting others covertly, rather than by embellishing their own accomplishments.[6]

Other research has found that more people have high regard for men with unrealistic confidence, despite the cost of this trait.[7] The logical conclusion would be men are rewarded for making unwarranted claims concerning their ability, otherwise they would not keep doing it. Ironically, women are criticized for being “overconfident” and as a result underplay their abilities. The reason for lack of women’s at the top of fields may not be lack of confidence; it may be because as women they simply do not receive the same advantages as men do. According to a recent article in Bloomsberg: “In other words, the “lack of confidence” women display may just be a cold realism, not an inherent character trait.”[8]

Photo by Sureshbmani – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18287291
[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/brucekasanoff/2015/03/23/women-if-youre-competent-its-time-to-be-confident/
[2] http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/05/the-confidence-gap/359815/
[3] Barber B, Odean T. Boys will be boys: Gender, overconfidence, and common stock investment. Quart J Econ. 2001; 116: 261–292.
[4] http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/05/the-confidence-gap/359815/
[5] Dunning D, Johnson K, Ehrlinger J, Kruger J. Why people fail to recognize their own incompetence. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 2003; 12: 83–7
[6] http://www.ereuben.net/research/GenderLeaderOverconfidenceWStar.pdf
[7] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0143263
[8] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-05-22/the-real-reason-men-are-more-confident-than-women-about-getting-jobs
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