Researchers at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business have found that when people watch video tutorials on social media, they often become overly confident in their own level of skill.
“The more that people watched others, the more they felt they could perform the same skill, too–even when their abilities hadn’t actually changed for the better,” says study co-author Michael Kardas. “Our findings suggest that merely watching others could cause people to attempt skills that they might not be ready or able to perform themselves.”
Social media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook have made it easy to share and access instructional videos. The researchers conducted a series of experiments to investigate whether watching videos can actually improve an individual’s ability at a certain skill without any practice.
In one experiment, over 1,000 participants were instructed to either watch a video, read step-by-step instructions, or simply imagine performing the “tablecloth trick.” To pull off this trick, individuals must yank a tablecloth out from under items on a table without disturbing them.
The study participants who watched the video 20 times were much more confident that they could accomplish this trick compared to those who only saw video one time. On the other hand, individuals who simply read or thought about the trick did not have any improved confidence in their ability to perform the trick.
The results of this initial investigation suggested that repetitively viewing the material led participants to have an inflated sense of competence.
In a second experiment with darts, participants who viewed an instructional video 20 times predicted that they would score more points then those who watched the video once. The high-exposure group also estimated that they would hit more bull’s-eyes because they believed their technique had improved from watching the video.
The study revealed that participants who had watched the video many more times scored no higher than those who had only viewed it once.
The researchers tested out other skills such as playing video games and juggling. They consistently found that, the more participants watched others perform these skills, the more they overestimated their own abilities.
“We see this as a potentially widespread phenomenon given that people have daily access to outlets for watching others perform,” said Kardas.
“Anyone who goes online to look up tips before attempting a skill – from cooking techniques to DIY home repairs to X Games tricks – would benefit from knowing that they might be overconfident in their own abilities after watching, and should exercise caution before attempting similar skills themselves.”
The study is published in the journal Psychological Science.