People in higher social classes are “overconfident” about their abilities which means they come across as more competent – even when they don’t know what they’re talking about, psychologists found.
Being able to confidently express what they think means a tendency to perform better during job interviews, opposed to working-class people, who are socialised to embrace humility and authenticity.
“Advantages beget advantages,” said Dr Peter Belmi from the University of Virginia and lead author of the study. “Our research suggests that social class shapes the attitudes that people hold about their abilities and that, in turn, has important implications for how class hierarchies perpetuate from one generation to the next."
This overconfidence means people who are born into the upper echelons of society are likely to remain there, according to the study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Researchers believe this overconfidence might be due to the differences in values between middle- and working-class people.
“In the middle class, people are socialised to differentiate themselves from others, to express what they think and feel and to confidently express their ideas and opinions, even when they lack accurate knowledge,” said Dr Belmi. “By contrast, working-class people are socialised to embrace the values of humility, authenticity and knowing your place in the hierarchy.
“These findings challenge the widely held belief that everybody thinks they are better than the average.”
Researchers carried out four investigations into the connection between social class and overconfidence. The largest study looked at more than 150,000 small business owners in Mexico who were looking for loans.
To measure social class, researchers looked at information about the applicants’ income, education level and perceived standing in society. They also had to complete a psychological assessment which involved using a flashcard game and a cognitive test. After completing the test, they were asked to guess how well they did on a scale of 1 to 100.
When psychologists compared the actual scores with applicants’ predictions, they found people with more education, income and perceived social class had an exaggerated belief that they would perform better.
“Individuals with relatively high social class were more overconfident, which in turn was associated with being perceived as more competent and ultimately more hireable,” said Dr Belmi.
The research could help explain why class-based hierarchies persist generation after generation. Psychologists believe that inequalities will continue to perpetuate if people continue to conflate impressions of confidence with evidence of ability.
“Our results suggest that finding solutions to mitigate class inequalities may require a focus on subtle and seemingly harmless human tendencies,” he said. “Although people may be well meaning, these inequalities will continue to perpetuate if people do not correct for their natural human tendency to conflate impressions of confidence with evidence of ability.”
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