Confidence vs. Being Right: What Really Helps You Get Ahead

When it comes to getting ahead in life, what really matters: being confident or being right?

Researchers from both the University of Edinburgh and the University of California in San Diego used a mathematical model to study the effects of traits -- like overconfidence, accuracy and underconfidence -- on people over a significant period of time. They discovered people with a tendency toward overconfidence were often rewarded for their positive self-image -- even if the statements they had to make on hot-button issues (think war and the economy) were completely inaccurate. In other words, they were the people who had the good jobs and great partners in spite of their accuracy shortfalls. On the other hand, those who lacked confidence had it harder, even though they were often right.

So where does an inflated sense of self-confidence come from?

"There hasn't been a good explanation for why we are overconfident, and this new model offers a kind of evolutionary logic for that," study author Dominic Johnson told National Geographic. The logic being people who are more confident tend to have more children because they're more appealing to -- and are more willing to approach -- the opposite sex.

“People with the mentality of someone like boxer Muhammad Ali would have left more descendants than those with the mindset of film maker Woody Allen,” the report claims. That’s not to say both men aren’t successful, it merely suggests the Woody Allens of the world will have a tougher time getting "ahead." Which could also mean, over time, there will be fewer insecure people on the planet.

Still, confidence isn’t always a good thing: being too cocky about a situation can land people in hot water. “The model shows overconfidence can plausibly evolve in a wide range of environments, as well as in situations in which it will fail,” study author Dominic Johnson says. “The question now is how to channel human overconfidence so we can exploit its benefits while avoiding occasional disasters.”