Friday, September 16, 2011

The Evolution of Overconfidence

The evolution of overconfidence

Dominic Johnson & James Fowler
Nature, 15 September 2011, Pages 317–320

Abstract: Confidence is an essential ingredient of success in a wide range of domains ranging from job performance and mental health to sports, business and combat. Some authors have suggested that not just confidence but overconfidence — believing you are better than you are in reality — is advantageous because it serves to increase ambition, morale, resolve, persistence or the credibility of bluffing, generating a self-fulfilling prophecy in which exaggerated confidence actually increases the probability of success. However, overconfidence also leads to faulty assessments, unrealistic expectations and hazardous decisions, so it remains a puzzle how such a false belief could evolve or remain stable in a population of competing strategies that include accurate, unbiased beliefs. Here we present an evolutionary model showing that, counterintuitively, overconfidence maximizes individual fitness and populations tend to become overconfident, as long as benefits from contested resources are sufficiently large compared with the cost of competition. In contrast, unbiased strategies are only stable under limited conditions. The fact that overconfident populations are evolutionarily stable in a wide range of environments may help to explain why overconfidence remains prevalent today, even if it contributes to hubris, market bubbles, financial collapses, policy failures, disasters and costly wars.

I don't see this as very counterintuitive. Being an alpha male is very stressful, and you die young. (I say "you" because I am an omega male). But you get crazy sex action in the meantime. bouncybouncybouncy. "Fitness" is not the same as "happiness," at all. Mr. Darwin didn't really care if animals were happy; that didn't play much of a role in the whole "nature red in tooth and claw" theory.

The problem is that our last two Presidents, first GWB and now BHO, are freakishly overconfident even by the standards of human males. Neither is capable of imagining that anyone actually disagrees with them, unless the disagreer is evil or a stone idiot.

(Nod to the Kevin Lewis)

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