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Managing Self-Confidence: Theory and Experimental Evidence

  • Markus M. 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 has 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 causally 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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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w17014.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17014.

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Date of creation: May 2011
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17014
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  1. Epstein, Larry G. & Noor, Jawwad & Sandroni, Alvaro, 2008. "Non-Bayesian updating: A theoretical framework," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 3(2), June.
  2. 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.
  3. Olivier Compte & Andrew Postlewaite, 2003. "Confidence-Enhanced Performance," PIER Working Paper Archive 03-009, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.
  4. Benoît, Jean-Pierre & Dubra, Juan, 2007. "Overconfidence?," MPRA Paper 5505, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  5. Brunnermeier, Markus K & Parker, Jonathan A, 2004. "Optimal Expectation," CEPR Discussion Papers 4656, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. repec:dgr:uvatin:20110151 is not listed on IDEAS
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Juan Dubra & Jean-Pierre Benoit, 2011. "Apparent Overconfidence," Documentos de Trabajo/Working Papers 1106, Facultad de Ciencias Empresariales y Economia. Universidad de Montevideo..
  10. 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.
  11. Grossman, Zachary & Owens, David, 2012. "An unlucky feeling: Overconfidence and noisy feedback," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 84(2), pages 510-524.
  12. Muriel Niederle & Lise Vesterlund, 2005. "Do Women Shy Away From Competition? Do Men Compete Too Much?," NBER Working Papers 11474, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Eric Van den Steen, 2004. "Rational Overoptimism (and Other Biases)," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(4), pages 1141-1151, September.
  14. 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.
  15. Eliaz, Kfir & Schotter, Andrew, 2010. "Paying for confidence: An experimental study of the demand for non-instrumental information," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 70(2), pages 304-324, November.
  16. Andrew Caplin & John Leahy, 2001. "Psychological Expected Utility Theory And Anticipatory Feelings," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(1), pages 55-79, February.
  17. repec:bla:restud:v:76:y:2009:i:4:p:1461-1489 is not listed on IDEAS
  18. 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.
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