WSU Cougar Head Logo Washington State University
WSU Insider
News and Information for Faculty, Staff, and the WSU Community

Overconfidence linked to one’s view of intelligence

By Eric Sorensen, WSU science writer

Ehrlinger-80PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University researcher Joyce Ehrlinger has found that a person’s tendency to be overconfident increases if he or she thinks intelligence is fixed and unchangeable.

Such people tend to maintain their overconfidence by concentrating on the easy parts of tasks while spending as little time as possible on the hard parts of tasks, said Ehrlinger, a WSU assistant professor of psychology.

But people who hold a growth mindset – meaning they think intelligence is a changeable quality – spend more time on the challenging parts of tasks, she said. Consequently, their levels of confidence are more in line with their abilities.

Ehrlinger’s research, conducted with Ainsley Mitchum of Florida State University and Carol Dweck of Stanford University, appears in the March edition of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

“A little bit of overconfidence can be helpful,” said Ehrlinger, “but larger amounts of overconfidence can lead people to make bad decisions and miss out on opportunities to learn.” The researchers note that overconfidence is a documented problem for drivers, motorcyclists, bungee jumpers, doctors and lawyers.

In the first of three studies for their paper, Ehrlinger and her colleagues found that students who hold a fixed mindset about intelligence were more overconfident about their performance on a multiple-choice test than those with a growth mindset. A second study found that students with fixed mindsets devoted less attention to difficult problems and, consequently, displayed more overconfidence than those with growth mindsets.

“By focusing on aspects of the task that were easy and spending as little time as possible on more difficult parts of the task, fixed theorists felt as if they had performed very well relative to their peers,” Ehrlinger said. “In contrast, growth theorists weren’t threatened by challenging parts of the task and didn’t feel the need to bask in the glow of the parts that were easy. This more balanced way of completing the task left growth theorists with a better understanding of how well they did.”

Further evidence for this conclusion came from a third study, which showed that forcing fixed theorists to really look at the difficult as well as the easy parts of an intellectual task shook their confidence, inspiring more accurate impressions of their performance.

The study fits in with WSU’s Grand Challenges initiative stimulating research to address some of society’s most complex issues. It is particularly relevant to the challenge of “Advancing Opportunity and Equity,” which, among other things, will look at the causes and consequences of unequal opportunity and ways to improve education.

“We know that students’ beliefs about intelligence are consequential in the classroom and that interventions that teach students a growth mindset lead to improvements in their grades,” said Ehrlinger. “We also know that being overconfident keeps people from learning; you have to understand and acknowledge what you don’t yet know in order to truly learn.

“This research suggests that part of why growth mindsets improve learning might be because they lead people to better understand what they do and what they do not know,” she said.

“Education is perhaps the best way to advance opportunity,” she said, “and emerging evidence suggests that the benefits of teaching a growth mindset for improving grades are particularly strong for students in stigmatized groups based on race or gender.”

 

Contact:
Joyce Ehrlinger, WSU assistant professor of psychology, 509-335-9127, joyce.ehrlinger@wsu.edu

 

 

Next Story

Strength in numbers

Prioritizing family, whether at home or on the field, is what drives Jake Dickert in his first full season as the WSU head football coach. Dickert and the Cougs play the Huskies in the Apple Cup this Saturday.

Recent News

Strength in numbers

Prioritizing family, whether at home or on the field, is what drives Jake Dickert in his first full season as the WSU head football coach. Dickert and the Cougs play the Huskies in the Apple Cup this Saturday.

Global Campus inducts first distinguished alumni

The first five inductees were Shelley Broader, Nancy Krook, Lisa King, Katey Koehn, and Gary Rubens — all leaders in business or philanthropy and supporters of the worldwide WSU Global Campus community.

Insider will return Monday, Nov. 28

WSU Insider is taking a break to join with the rest of the university community in celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. Enjoy the break. We’ll be back the morning of Nov. 28 with fresh posts and all the latest information for the WSU community.

Learning from indigenous populations common thread in new grants

Three new grants with funding from the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences will promote community education with a common focus on learning from Native populations.

Find More News

Subscribe for more updates