"We think in generalities, we live in details"
RE: virus: Overconfidence is a disadvantage in war, finds study
« on: 2006-07-06 01:34:15 »
[Blunderov] "The last shall be first and the first shall be last."
Overconfidence is a disadvantage in war, finds study
Submitted by davidswanson on Wed, 2006-07-05 16:54. Media
By Roxanne Khamsi, www.NewScientist.com
Overconfident people are more likely to wage war but fare worse in the
ensuing battles, a new study suggests. The research on how people approach a
computer war game backs up a theory that "positive illusions" may contribute
to costly conflicts.
"It supplies critically needed experimental support for the idea that
positive attitude - which is generally a [beneficial] feature of human
behaviour - may lead to overconfidence and [damaging] behaviour in the case
of war," comments Peter Turchin of the University of Connecticut, US.
Previous work has suggested that mentally healthy people can have highly
optimistic predictions, or "positive illusions". This optimism may have
offered an evolutionary advantage in the past, allowing our ancestors to
cope with adversity and bluff opponents.
But in the present day this optimism may wreak havoc on international
relations, argue the researchers, who conducted computer simulations to test
Dominic Johnson of Princeton University in New Jersey and his colleagues
recruited 200 volunteers to play the role of the leader of a fictitious
country that is in conflict with another over newly discovered diamond
resources that lay along a disputed border.
Before the game, volunteers were asked to predict how their performance
would rank compared with the other 199 people in the experiment. They then
played anonymously against other volunteers and received $10 if they won the
game, that is, if they amassed the most wealth or defeated their opponent in
Each player began with $100 million in game money to invest in their
military or industrial infrastructure, or to reserve as cash. The program
gave them constant updates about the offers and actions of their opponents.
Careful negotiations with opponents could win players additional resources
in exchange for the diamonds. But they also had the option of waging war.
Their victory in battle was determined by how much they had invested in
their military, along with an element of chance.
The harder they come
Players who made higher-than-average predictions of their performance -
those who had higher confidence - were more likely to carry out unprovoked
attacks. These warmongers ranked themselves on average at number 60 out of
the 200 players, while those who avoided war averaged out at the 75
A further analysis showed that people with higher self-rankings ended up
worse off at the end of the game. "Those who expected to do best tended to
do worst," the researchers say. "This suggests that positive illusions were
not only misguided but actually may have been detrimental to performance in
Men tended to be more overconfident than women. But the study found nothing
to back up the popular idea that high testosterone causes confidence and
aggression. Saliva tests showed that, within each gender group, testosterone
level did not correlate with how participants expected to perform in the
Those who launched unprovoked attacks also exhibited more narcissism,
scoring 13 out of 15 on a standard psychological test. More peaceful types
scored 11 on average on the same test. The trend applied to both men and
women. "So it's not maleness per se but narcissism that makes some people
overly optimistic and aggressive," suggests Bertram Malle at the University
of Oregon in Eugene, US.
"This study fits within a relatively new field of research which connects
motivations of individual people to their collective behaviour," says
"One wishes that members of the Bush administration had known about this
research before they initiated invasion of Iraq three years ago," he adds.
"I think it would be fair to say that the general opinion of political
scientists is that the Bush administration was overconfident of victory, and
that the Iraq war is a debacle."
Malle agrees that the study raises worrying questions about real-world
political leaders. "Perhaps most disconcerting is that today's leaders are
above-average in narcissism," he notes, referring to an analysis of 377
leaders published in King of the Mountain: The nature of political
leadership by Arnold Ludwig.
Journal reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B (DOI:
To unsubscribe from the Virus list go to <http://www.churchofvirus.org/cgi-bin/virus-l>