Why arrogance is dangerous

Cheng says that she had been inspired by the anecdotal reports of behaviour on Wall Street, where arrogance appears to be rife. “When you go to other sectors like education, you often don’t hear teachers being described in the same way”. These differences led her to wonder whether certain groups of people might actually encourage the development an inflated ego in others. Some previous research had hinted at this possibility, showing that bankers’ overconfidence tends to grow with their time spent in the profession – which would make sense, if they were “catching” the behaviour from their colleagues – but Cheng wanted to put the idea to the test in the laboratory.

Her first experiment had two stages. Individually, the participants were asked to look at photos of people’s faces and attempt to guess various personalities based on their expressions – a task that some people are able to do with reasonable accuracy. To gauge their confidence, the participants were asked to rate their perceptions of their abilities, compared to the rest of the group.

The participants then had to do the same task in pairs, after which they were again asked to rate their own abilities, allowing her to see whether the arrogance of one person would rub off on another. Sure enough, she found that humbler participants were much more likely to increase their own ratings once they had been placed with an overconfident partner. “It was quite remarkable,” Cheng says. Link

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