Tag Archives: Competence

Credit: Pixabay.

Why people are so easily convinced by high-class, yet incompetent people

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

Very often, people who had a rich upbringing and come from a good family — let’s call them high-class  — seem to be able to convince other people that they’re more competent than they actually are. Whether it’s some politicians or the head of marketing at your company, examples of this effect are abundant. And according to a new study performed by psychologists at the University of Virginia, this effect can be explained by overconfidence, which stranger misinterpret as competence.

Yet another advantage of higher social class

“Drawing on a collection of findings suggesting that different social class contexts have powerful effects on people’s sense of self, we propose that social class shapes the beliefs that people hold about their abilities, and that this, in turn, has important implications for how status hierarchies perpetuate,” the authors wrote in their study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The study consisted of four experiments. In the first experiment, 150,000 small-business owners in Mexico seeking a loan provided information about their income and education level. They were also asked to self-report their social status by selecting a rung on a ladder. As a measure of competence, each participant completed a memory test and had to estimate how well they thought they did compared to other participants. According to the results, higher-class people generally performed better than others — though not nearly to the degree that they assumed they did.

A second study involving 230 University of Virginia students showed that students belonging to higher social class failed to outperform their peers in a trivia game, despite the fact that they were almost certain that they had. For this part, social class was assessed by the students themselves (how they saw themselves relative to others in the United States), as well as their parents’ income and education.

The same students also participated in a mock job interview that was taped by the researchers. A group of strangers was instructed to watch the interviews and rate the candidates. Interestingly, these people generally selected the same people who had overestimated their trivia abilities earlier. Overconfidence, it seems, won the selection committee over.

Previously, other studies found that overconfident people were generally perceived as more competent. However, the researchers say that they would not like the public to think that they should strive to be overconfident.  Stock market crashes, car accidents, people’s lives and livelihoods have been lost because of overconfidence during critical situations. Instead, the findings should inspire managers, recruiters, and voters to focus more on facts about people rather than where these individuals came from.

Matches leadership.

Competence begets leadership in small groups

New research is looking into how small groups of individuals interact to make decisions — particularly the ones regarding leadership.

Matches leadership.

Image via Pixabay.

Large groups of people tend to operate via a “wisdom of the crowd” mechanism, whereby individuals tend to aggregate information from the group. Overall, this does (generally) lead to crowds taking better decisions than the individuals themselves. For example, Sir Francis Galton remarked that when a crowd was asked to estimate the weight of an ox at a country fair, their averaged answers was closer to the ox’s butchered weight than most estimates taken individually.

Small groups don’t really follow this same principle, a new study reveals — at least not when it comes to leadership.

Ask the boss

Researchers at the New York University (NYU) Tandon School of Engineering worked with several groups of five volunteers, which they pitted through a 10-round cognitive test. Each participant was asked to estimate the number of dots displayed on a large screen and, without verbally communicating with one another, choose one of multiple answers using a custom-made clicker. The catch was that the image would only be shown for half a second at a time.

All 10 rounds were played consecutively in a single session. Because of how the test was designed, it was virtually impossible for participants to reliably count the dots — forcing them to guess, basically. However, they were given the chance to alter their answer in response to the choices of other participants.

Once all group members chose an answer, the screen displayed all current answers along with each member’s past performance (in selecting the correct number of dots). Participants then had a 10-second window in which to change their responses based on those of the others in the group.

“Individuals used social information more and more over time, and the more accurate the information, the more influence it had over participants’ choices,” said Porfiri. “Therefore, the relationship between participants’ performance and their social influence was reinforced over time, resulting in the emergence of group leaders.”

Individuals didn’t follow the simple majority rule, the team reports, as would be expected in a ‘crowd’. Instead, they were more fluid in who they followed, overall rallying behind the group members that had shown competence by performing best over time. Based on this observation, the team says that the group formed a dynamic network of interaction in which participants were nodes and the links were the consequences of social influence. For example, the investigators generated a link from one participant to another if the first had changed his or her answer to that of the second. The speed at which the network grew increased over the course of each of the rounds.

Participants were quite heavily influenced by social information when changing their answers. On average, they changed answers to ones that nobody else had selected only about 5% of the time — meaning that roughly 95% of changes mirrored those of other group members. Participants were more likely to be copied by others if their performances were good, even if their answers differed from those of the group majority.

Nakayama, the lead author, explained that the behavior of small groups is strikingly different from that of much larger gatherings of people.

“Where a large crowd would adopt a simple majority rule, with an increase in the accuracy of performance over repeated interactions, individuals rely more on social than personal information and as a consequence, good performers would emerge as group leaders, exerting a stronger influence on others over time,” says Shinnosuke Nakayama, postdoctoral researcher at NYU Tandon and lead author of the paper.

Such networks function much like neural networks in the brain, the team explains, where physically-distant neurons form connections to perform a specific function. Social ties in small groups evolve over time based on actions, they conclude.

The paper “Social information and spontaneous emergence of leaders in human groups” has been published in the Journal of The Royal Society Interface.