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Overconfidence Seen in Kids as Young as Four

Overconfidence is consistently observed among people in certain professions, including business executives, bankers and physicians across different countries and cultures, but a new U.K. study finds it persistent and widespread during early childhood as well.

“Much of our knowledge on judgment and decision-making is based on adult participants but there is no reason to believe that humans only develop such an omnipresent cognitive illusion once we reach adulthood,” said Dr. Dominik Piehlmaier, lecturer in marketing at the University of Sussex Business School and the study’s author.

“My findings indicate that effective interventions that increase an individual’s knowledge about their own knowledge and its boundaries might be needed to target much younger individuals if one wants to efficiently calibrate a person’s irrational confidence.”

For the study, children played a card game known as the Children’s Gambling Task where they choose cards from one of two packs. The card is then turned over to reveal how many stickers the participant has won and lost. One pack had cards with significantly higher wins and losses than the other.

At intervals, the young participants had to decide whether they thought they would win more, about the same, or fewer stickers than they did in a previous game.

After six practice trials, each child started off with four stickers. On average, each participant gained 0.3 stickers per turn and left the game with an average of 6.67 stickers, ranging from zero to 33.

The results show that more than 70% of four-year-olds and half of all five and six-year-olds were overconfident in their expectations after playing 10 turns and six practice trials.

“A vast number of repetitions, learning, and feedback in the study did not diminish the misplaced confidence in the success of the majority of participants,” said Piehlmaier. “The children played more than 60 turns and saw their payoff balance rose and fell, yet every third child still thought that they could do better than they had done in the previous 50 turns.”

“The Children’s Gambling Task closely resembles a very simplified version of the financial markets with relatively safe options providing low but steady average return rates and highly risky assets that promise much higher short-term gains with a catastrophic long-term yield,” he said.

“The finding that overconfidence is persistent even in the face of own shortcomings mirrors results from previous studies that looked at the performance of investors.”

Overconfidence is more commonly seen as a male trait, but the study revealed interesting results when it came to the general performance of boys and girls.

In general, girls outperformed boys by an average of 2.87 stickers thanks to a less high-risk strategy of choosing relatively more safe cards which offered smaller but more sustainable gains.

“Boys seem to follow a negative trend line that indicates slow but steady learning on what might be considered ‘reasonable expectations.’ Girls’ behavior is much more unpredictable. When the girls’ overconfidence plot is compared to their payoffs, it can be noticed that they closely align,” said Piehlmaier.

“This indicates that girls overestimate their abilities if they have a winning streak and underestimate themselves whenever they lose a few times in a row.

“By the end of the experiment, there were relatively more overconfident girls than boys — a finding that contradicts previous reports regarding more calibrated girls in metamemory tasks.”

Source: University of Sussex



Overconfidence Seen in Kids as Young as Four

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Overconfidence Seen in Kids as Young as Four. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Apr 2020 (Originally: 6 Apr 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 6 Apr 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.