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Kevin Dorst (Pittsburgh): “Overconfidence in Overconfidence”
26 February 2020, 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm
Abstract: Do people tend to be overconfident in their opinions? Many psychologists think so. They have run calibration studies in which they ask people a variety of questions, and then test whether their confidence in their answers matches the proportions of those answers that are true. Under certain conditions, an “overconfidence effect” is robust—for example, of the answers people are 80% confident in, only 60% are true. Psychologists have inferred that people tend to be irrationally overconfident. My question is when and why this inference is warranted. Although it may at first appear hopelessly flawed, I show that under controlled conditions it is a warranted inference. However, I argue that real-world studies standardly fail to meet these conditions—and, as a result, that rational people can often be expected to display the “overconfidence effect.” Thus in order to test whether people are overconfident, we must first predict whether and to what extent a rational person will display this effect, and then compare that prediction to real people’s performance. I show how in principle this can be done—and that doing so may overturn the standard interpretation of robust empirical effects. Upshot: have much less evidence for overconfidence than many have thought.