A lack of confidence in our abilities on a given task or activity seems to stem from overestimating the abilities of others, according to a University of Alberta study.
Summary: Lacking confidence in our own ability may stem from overestimating the abilities and performance of others, researchers say.
Source: University of Alberta
The finding could offer leaders insights into how to counter self-doubt in the face of a difficult task.
Previous research has shown that for many tasks and activities, the majority of people tend to predict that they will outperform others, especially when tasks are easy, a classic example comes from a 1981 study of U.S. drivers in which 93 percent claimed they were better than average.
On difficult tasks, however, most people tend to predict that others will do better than they will.
In making sense of these seemingly contradictory findings, the study surveyed runners before a timed race about how they expected to do.
The researchers—Gerald Häubl, a marketing professor in the Alberta School of Business and the Ronald K. Banister Chair in Business, and Isabelle Engeler of the University of Navarra in Spain—chose a challenging mountain rac.
With uphill distances ranging from 10 to 78 kilometres.
Controlling for age, gender and running experience, the researchers found that the runners who wrongly predicted that their finishing times would be better than average—those who were overconfident—were driven mainly by overestimating their own performances.
Meanwhile, runners who predicted they would perform worse than average—those who were underconfident in their abilities—had a solid understanding of their own performance but expected more from their competitors.
“Our work identifies two distinct sources of bias or two different reasons for why people might not be well calibrated: they can be biased in their self-assessment, and they can be biased in their assessment of others,” said Professor Häubl.
As well, the underconfident group was not only quite accurate in predicting their own performance, they also tended to be those who were better than average.
Professor Häubl said under-confidence, which can manifest itself in the workplace as imposter syndrome, is often beneficial, particularly if it motivates people to work harder.