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Managing self-confidence: theory and experimental evidence

  • Markus Mobius
  • Muriel Niederle
  • Paul Niehaus
  • Tanya S. Rosenblat

Evidence from social psychology suggests that agents process information about their own ability in a biased manner. This evidence has motivated exciting research in behavioral economics, but also garnered critics who point out that it is potentially consistent with standard Bayesian updating. We implement a direct experimental test. We study a large sample of 656 undergraduate students, tracking the evolution of their beliefs about their own relative performance on an IQ test as they receive noisy feedback from a known data-generating process. Our design lets us repeatedly measure the complete relevant belief distribution incentive-compatibly. We find that subjects (1) place approximately full weight on their priors, but (2) are asymmetric, over-weighting positive feedback relative to negative, and (3) conservative, updating too little in response to both positive and negative signals. These biases are substantially less pronounced in a placebo experiment where ego is not at stake. We also find that (4) a substantial portion of subjects are averse to receiving information about their ability, and that (5) less confident subjects are more likely to be averse. We unify these phenomena by showing that they all arise naturally in a simple model of optimally biased Bayesian information processing.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in its series Working Papers with number 11-14.

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Date of creation: 2011
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedbwp:11-14
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  1. Muriel Niederle & Lise Vesterlund, 2007. "Do Women Shy Away from Competition? Do Men Compete Too Much?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 122(3), pages 1067-1101, 08.
  2. Benoît, Jean-Pierre & Dubra, Juan, 2008. "Overconfidence?," MPRA Paper 765, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  3. Grether, David M., 1992. "Testing bayes rule and the representativeness heuristic: Some experimental evidence," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 17(1), pages 31-57, January.
  4. James H. Stock & Motohiro Yogo, 2002. "Testing for Weak Instruments in Linear IV Regression," NBER Technical Working Papers 0284, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Brunnermeier, Markus K & Parker, Jonathan A, 2004. "Optimal Expectation," CEPR Discussion Papers 4656, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. Eliaz, Kfir & Schotter, Andrew, 2009. "Paying for Confidence: An Experimental Study of the Demand for Non-Instrumental Information," CEPR Discussion Papers 7415, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Caplin, Andrew & Leahy, John, 1997. "Psychological Expected Utility Theory and Anticipatory Feelings," Working Papers 97-37, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  8. Juan Dubra & Jean-Pierre Benoit, 2011. "Apparent Overconfidence," Documentos de Trabajo/Working Papers 1106, Facultad de Ciencias Empresariales y Economia. Universidad de Montevideo..
  9. Theo Offerman & Joep Sonnemans & Gijs Van De Kuilen & Peter P. Wakker, 2009. "A Truth Serum for Non-Bayesians: Correcting Proper Scoring Rules for Risk Attitudes ," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 76(4), pages 1461-1489.
  10. Olivier Compte & Andrew Postlewaite, 2001. "Confidence-Enhanced Performance," PIER Working Paper Archive 04-023, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania, revised 01 May 2003.
  11. Grossman, Zachary & Owens, David, 2010. "An Unlucky Feeling: Overconfidence and Noisy Feedback," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt13r2f3gt, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
  12. Grether, David M, 1980. "Bayes Rule as a Descriptive Model: The Representativeness Heuristic," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 95(3), pages 537-57, November.
  13. M. Ruth & K. Donaghy & P. Kirshen, 2006. "Introduction," Chapters, in: Regional Climate Change and Variability, chapter 1 Edward Elgar.
  14. repec:dgr:uvatin:20110151 is not listed on IDEAS
  15. Larry G. Epstein & Jawwad Noor & Alvaro Sandroni, 2005. "Non-Bayesian Updating: A Theoretical Framework," Boston University - Department of Economics - Working Papers Series WP2005-025, Boston University - Department of Economics.
  16. Eric Van den Steen, 2004. "Rational Overoptimism (and Other Biases)," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(4), pages 1141-1151, September.
  17. Carrillo, Juan D & Mariotti, Thomas, 2000. "Strategic Ignorance as a Self-Disciplining Device," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 67(3), pages 529-44, July.
  18. repec:bla:restud:v:76:y:2009:i:4:p:1461-1489 is not listed on IDEAS
  19. Lu�s Santos-Pinto & Joel Sobel, 2005. "A Model of Positive Self-Image in Subjective Assessments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(5), pages 1386-1402, December.
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