LONDON – As the old saying goes – it seems nice guys really do finish last.
A new study has shown that overconfident people are more likely to land the best jobs in life as they can fool others into believing they are more talented than they really are.
Experts behind the research also claim that successful people who have an inflated view of their own abilities could partially explain disasters such as the banking collapse in 2008.
This is because these people are more likely to overestimate other people’s talents, and therefore take greater risks, according to academics from Newcastle and Exeter universities.
The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, also reported that those who underestimate their own skills are seen as less able than they actually are by colleagues.
In the study, 72 students were asked to rate their own ability and the ability of their peers after the first day of their course.
Of those, 32 students (about 45 per cent) were under confident in their ability as compared to their final mark, 29 students (40 per cent) were overconfident and 11 (15 per cent) were accurate in their assessments of their own ability.
There was a positive correlation between the grades students predicted for themselves and the grades others predicted for them.
In other words, students who predicted higher grades for themselves were predicted to have higher grades by others, irrespective of their actual final score.
The same applied to those who were under confident.
The task was repeated after six weeks of the course when the students knew each other better and the findings remained the same. Those who were overconfident were still over-rated by others.
Study author Dr Vivek Nityananda, research associate at Newcastle University’s Institute of Neuroscience, said: ‘These findings suggest that people don’t always reward the most accomplished individual but rather the most self-deceived.
‘We think this supports an evolutionary theory of self-deception.
‘It can be beneficial to have others believe you are better than you are and the best way to do this is to deceive yourself – which might be what we have evolved to do.
‘This can cause problems as overconfident people may also be more likely to take risks.
‘So if too many people overrate themselves and deceive others about their abilities within organisations, then this could lead to disastrous consequences such as airplane crashes or financial collapses.’
Joint lead author Dr Shakti Lamba, of the University of Exeter, added: ‘If overconfident people are more likely to be risk prone then by promoting them we may be creating institutions, such as banks and armies, that are more vulnerable to risk.’