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People in a higher social class often have overconfidence that serves them

According to a new study published by the American Psychological Association, people in a higher social class often have an exaggerated belief that they are better than others. This inflated ego may be misinterpreted and can influence important interactions, including job interviews.

“Advantages beget advantages. Those who are born in upper-class echelons are likely to remain in the upper class, and high-earning entrepreneurs disproportionately originate from highly educated, well-to-do families,” said study lead author Dr. Peter Belmi, PhD, of the University of Virginia. “Our research suggests that social class shapes the attitudes that people hold about their abilities and that, in turn, has important implications for how class hierarchies perpetuate from one generation to the next.”

The researchers conducted four experiments to investigate the connection between social class and overconfidence and how this dynamic may influence perceptions of an individual’s competence.

The largest trial was focused on more than 150,000 small business owners in Mexico who were applying for loans. To measure social class, the researchers examined the applicants’ income, education level, and self-reported position in society.

The applicants were also required to complete a psychological assessment that would be used to assess their credit worthiness, and then asked to evaluate their own performance on a scale of one to 100.

When the researchers compared the actual scores with applicants’ predictions, they found that individuals with higher education, more income, and a higher perceived social class had an exaggerated belief that they performed better than others.

Three additional experiments confirmed that people from a higher social class tended to be overconfident. The researchers also discovered that this overconfidence was misinterpreted by others as greater competence.

“Individuals with relatively high social class were more overconfident, which in turn was associated with being perceived as more competent and ultimately more hirable, even though, on average, they were no better at the trivia test than their lower-class counterparts,” said Dr. Belmi.

He pointed out that the overconfidence effect may be partially due to differences in values between the middle and working classes.

“In the middle class, people are socialized to differentiate themselves from others, to express what they think and feel and to confidently express their ideas and opinions, even when they lack accurate knowledge. By contrast, working-class people are socialized to embrace the values of humility, authenticity and knowing your place in the hierarchy,” he said. “These findings challenge the widely held belief that everybody thinks they are better than the average. Our results suggest that this type of thinking might be more prevalent among the middle and upper classes.”

According to Dr. Belmi, the study adds to a growing collection of research on why class-based hierarchies continue to persist generation after generation.

“Our results suggest that finding solutions to mitigate class inequalities may require a focus on subtle and seemingly harmless human tendencies. Although people may be well meaning, these inequalities will continue to perpetuate if people do not correct for their natural human tendency to conflate impressions of confidence with evidence of ability.”

The study is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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