Confidence prevails over precision for advice seeking humans

June 11th, 2009 - 1:28 pm ICT by ANI  

London, June 11 (ANI): Your astrologer may not always be bang on target while predicting your future, but you still tend to pay him regular visits, all because of the confidence with which he discusses things with you.

A study of how people’s self-confidence affects the way others respond to their advice has revealed that one prefers advice from a confident source, even to the point that we are willing to forgive a poor track record.

Don Moore of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has argued that in competitive situations, such blind confidence could drive those offering advice to increasingly exaggerate how sure they are.And it spells bad news for scientists who try to be honest about gaps in their knowledge, reports New Scientist magazine.

In their experiment, volunteers were given cash for correctly guessing the weight of people from their photographs.

In each of the eight rounds of the study, the guessers bought advice from one of four other volunteers.

The guessers could see in advance how confident each of these advisers was, but not which weights they had opted for.

From the start, the more confident advisers found more buyers for their advice, which caused the advisers to give answers that were more and more precise as the game progressed.

However, such escalation in precision disappeared when guessers simply had to choose whether or not to buy the advice of a single adviser.

During later rounds, guessers tended to avoid advisers who had been wrong previously, but this effect was diminished by the bias towards confidence.

Moore said that following the advice of the most confident person often makes sense, as there is evidence that precision and expertise do tend to go hand in hand.

But, there are times, when this link breaks down- for example, with complex but politicised subjects such as global warming, scientific experts, who stress uncertainties are defeated by activists or lobbyists with a more emphatic message.

The study was presented at an Association for Psychological Science meeting in San Francisco. (ANI)

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