Social Norms Limit Negative Feedback, Foster Overconfidence New research suggests societal customs can deter honest criticism, a situation that can lead to a misperception of capabilities.

In the study, Dr. Joyce Ehrlinger, a Florida State University assistant professor of psychology, recreated everyday interactions in which people might feel pressured to withhold negative information.

Ehrlinger’s findings will be presented at the American Psychological Association’s 120th convention in Orlando, Fla.

Ehrlinger contention is that because society trains us not to hurt others’ feelings, we rarely hear the truth about ourselves — even when it’s well-deserved. And that can be a problem for overly self-confident people who carry around inaccurate, overly positive perceptions of how others view them.

The research effort consisted of three studies conducted by Ehrlinger and two Florida State graduate students . The studies incorporated a scenario of awkward social situations in which one person argues for a political position that others find reprehensible.

The researchers suspected that such moments usually lead to awkward silence more often than impassioned debate. This hypothesis was tested by bringing in unacquainted participants with opposing views on a controversial issue.

They then asked one participant to persuade the other of his or her view on the issue. Typically the targets responded by smiling or vaguely agreeing, which most likely reduced the potential for conflict, but left the political persuaders with inaccurate, overconfident perceptions of their debating skills.

In a second study, participants displayed overconfidence in their ability to be funny because they failed to recognize how often others laughed at jokes that weren’t funny, just to be polite.

While being polite and letting some things slide may result in innocuous overconfidence, the loss in reality-testing could mean trouble.

Ehrlinger explains it this way:

“There’s definitely no harm in some types of overconfidence, and I am not suggesting that we should stop living in a polite society,” Ehrlinger said. “The worst that might come from someone believing that they are funnier than, in reality, they are is a bit of embarrassment or wasted effort auditioning for ‘America’s Got Talent.'”

That said, she argues it’s important to note when politeness might come at a cost. There are many times when overconfidence carries serious consequences.

“Overconfident doctors and lawyers might offer their patients or clients poor advice,” she said. “There are ways in which overconfidence is dangerous, and it might be important to set aside politeness in the service of helping people avoid the perils of overconfidence.”

Ehrlinger’s findings will be presented at the American Psychological Association’s 120th convention in Orlando, Fla.

Source: Florida State University

Man smiling and holding his hand out photo by shutterstock.