Thursday, November 05, 2009

We Get Letters: Confidence in Men

I have this friend, a young woman who graduated from Duke years ago, and now works in a large city in the Northeast. She sometimes tells me of her dating disasters, laughing ruefully at the latest apocalypse.

Here is a g-chat exchange we had, some months ago:

A: I'm afraid I go for the arrogant type
like that awful guy I told you about.

me: you think you can TAME them?
A: i dont want to;
at a certain point it's not worth it

me: how's that brilliant plan working out
A: not working out at ALL
me: so, what about the NICE guys, the quiet
A: they love me
and i dont give them a chance
it's bad
lots of them

me: well, yes, exactly.
A: oy.
you sound like my mother
i wish i could be attracted to them
i literally cant
it's a huge problem

me: can't fake it. not worth trying
A: you cant fake attraction
what's the point?
it is or it isn't
it's biological, chemical

Well, anyway, it struck me that there is an obvious explanation for why men are arrogant jerks. Women prefer men who are arrogant jerks. Women say they don't (though A, above, is honest enough to admit that she DOES prefer arrogant jerks), but they do.

So, the reason boys are more confident than girls is that girls want them to be, and choose mating partners based on confidence. Boys do NOT choose girls on this basis.

The point is that, as usual, women are in charge here. Don't blame the boys, we are just trying to please you ladies.

What Explains Boys’ Stronger Confidence in their Intelligence?

Ricarda Steinmayr & Birgit Spinath
Sex Roles, November 2009, Pages 736-749

This study investigated whether boys’ stronger confidence in their intelligence is explained by gender differences in measured intelligence and gender-stereotypical parental perceptions of their children’s intelligence. Verbal, numeric, figural, and reasoning intelligence and corresponding self-ratings were assessed for 496 German 11th and 12th graders (284 girls; age: M = 16.95). Parents also rated their children’s intelligence (339 parents; 205 mothers; age: M  = 46.66). With and without controlling for intelligence, boys rated their numerical, figural, and reasoning abilities higher than girls. The same pattern appeared in parental intelligence perceptions. Boys even judged themselves as more intelligent controlling for both measured intelligence and parental intelligence estimates. Thus, neither intelligence nor gender-stereotypical parental perceptions totally explains boys’ stronger confidence in their intelligence.


The Evolution of Overconfidence

Dominic Johnson & James Fowler
University of California Working Paper, September 2009

Confidence is an essential ingredient of success in a wide range of domains including job performance, mental health, sports, business, and combat. Many authors have suggested that overconfidence -- defined here as believing you are better than you are in reality -- is advantageous because it serves to increase ambition, resolve, morale, persistence, and/or the bluffing of opponents. However, too much overconfidence can cause arrogance, market bubbles, financial collapses, policy failures, disasters, and wars, so it remains a puzzle how such a false belief could evolve or remain stable in a population of competing accurate beliefs. Here, we present an evolutionary model that shows overconfidence actually maximizes individual fitness and populations will tend to become overconfident, as long as the resources at stake during conflicts exceed twice the cost of competition. This is because overconfident individuals make more challenges when there is uncertainty about the strength of opponents (and thus the outcome of conflicts), while less confident individuals shy away from many conflicts they would win. Where the value of a prize is at least twice the cost of trying, overconfidence is the best strategy. The model suggests that the conditions under which humans would have evolved to have a "rational" unbiased view of their own capabilities are exceedingly rare, and it helps to explain why resource-rich environments can paradoxically create more conflict. Moreover, the fact that overconfident populations are evolutionarily stable may be one reason why overconfidence persists today in politics, business, and finance, even if it causes occasional disasters.

(Nod to Kevin L, who is very confident, for the article references)

(I couldn't find a video of Jack Palance saying, "Confidence is very sexy, don't you think?" But I wanted to)

(UPDATE: Commenter Adam Dynes comes up big. He's WAAAAY ahead of me. Check this out....)


Adam Dynes said...

I once wrote a song about this fact of life, which I call the Jerk Theory. The song inspired a teen romantic comedy, but unfortunately, the economy tanked, so it's sitting on the back burner. But here's a link to a preview:

Anonymous said...

Audio of Palance:

David said...

Tao of Steve > Jerk Theory