Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gladwell's latest

Malcolm Gladwell has a new piece out in the New Yorker about overconfidence. He argues, in brief (and among other things), that when we become overconfident we blur the line between things we can control and things we cannot. A particularly interesting bit:
The psychologist Ellen Langer once had subjects engage in a betting game against either a self-assured, well-dressed opponent or a shy and badly dressed opponent (in Langer’s delightful phrasing, the “dapper” or the “schnook” condition), and she found that her subjects bet far more aggressively when they played against the schnook. They looked at their awkward opponent and thought, I’m better than he is. Yet the game was pure chance: all the players did was draw cards at random from a deck, and see who had the high hand. This is called the “illusion of control”: confidence spills over from areas where it may be warranted (“I’m savvier than that schnook”) to areas where it isn’t warranted at all (“and that means I’m going to draw higher cards”).
While this article certainly isn't among Gladwell's best work, it's still worth the read.

Related: Dan Ariely on how we are influenced more by confidence than by expertise. Disturbing thought, especially for scientists who are trained to be careful about their claims.

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