Social benefits of overconfidence

The primary focus of my PhD was the potential social benefits of overconfidence. I worked to test the possibility that individuals with overly positive self-views may gain social benefits, both romantic and coalitional, by virtue of convincing others that their inflated self-assessments are accurate (von Hippel & Trivers, 2011). In order to do this, I used a combination of online dating profile studies, agent-based simulations, and longitudinal social network analysis in a field setting.

Romantic benefits of overconfidence

Much of my work has tested the effects of overconfidence on romantic perceptions of individuals. Across a series of studies, I developed a novel methodology involving written dating profiles as a way to test both the ability to attract a partner, and the ability to deter competitors. This research has shown evidence that overconfident individuals may gain benefits in romantic competition, though the effects on mate attraction are more nuanced. These findings are published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (Murphy, Barlow, Dubbs, Wilson, Angilletta & von Hippel, 2015).

Coalitional benefits of overconfidence

A secondary project I have underway aims to test the longitudinal effects of overconfidence on coalition-building success. I am interested in whether overconfident individuals might become increasingly successful over time as they take more risks and convince others of their positive self-views – potentially by making those views reality. Because most research on overconfidence to date has been cross-sectional, effects of overconfidence through this mechanism have largely been untested. I have been working with data measuring overconfidence and friendship networks in a private school setting, and initial results indicate that overconfidence may indeed lead individuals to both realise their overly positive self-views, and become increasingly central to their social networks over time.

Social impacts of pain tolerance

We typically think of pain as something to avoid – an adaptive signal that something is damaging our body and we should do something about it. But there are a surprising number of circumstances in which we seek out small to moderate amounts of pain in everyday life. Runners’ high, eating hot chillis, and even dumping buckets of icy water over our heads for charity.

I am working with Dr. Brock Bastian to investigate the reasons why people willingly endure pain, especially in circumstances where others can observe them. Recent research suggests that people may be more willing to donate money to charity when the donating is accompanied by a painful act on their part. We are investigating whether people might look favourably upon others who endure such minor acts of pain, and whether an intuitive knowledge of this might drive these acts of willing pain.