Tag Archives: confidence

The Relationship Between Boasting and Arrogance

In certain situations boasting about one’s achievements is a necessary evil (I’m British, OK?). It’s a delicate thing to do correctly and there are strategies to successfully avoid the situation completely[1].

When you must brag, however, research has shown in what circumstances a person’s boasting comes across as self-absorbed arrogance and when it comes across as justified in the context of the conversation.

The crux of it: context is everything when it comes to boasting. If Avi’s friend raised the topic of the exams, Avi received favourable ratings in terms of his boastfulness and likeability, regardless of whether he was actually asked what grade he got. By contrast, if Avi raised the topic of the exams, but failed to provoke a question, then his likeability suffered and he was seen as more of a boaster.

In other words, to pull off a successful boast, you need it to be appropriate to the conversation. If your friend, colleague, or date raises the topic, you can go ahead and pull a relevant boast in safety. Alternatively, if you’re forced to turn the conversation onto the required topic then you must succeed in provoking a question from your conversation partner. If there’s no question and you raised the topic then any boast you make will leave you looking like a big-head.

However, as noted at Mind Hacks, this study was conducted in Israel and there are obviously going to be regional variations:

I’ve informally noticed that the social acceptability of ‘talking oneself up’ varies greatly between countries – from the USA, where moderate self-praise is standard social currency, to the UK, where it is only acceptable when followed by a self-deprecating comment or joke, to Sweden where it is only acceptable when one is threatened by armed men or the future of the world hangs in the balance.

[1] Ben Casnocha suggests:

In a group setting with impressive people (conference, dinner party, etc) have a third person introduce each person instead of self-introductions. You can’t brag about yourself. A third party can.

Forer Experiments: Your Personalised Personality Profile

Here is the ‘personalised’ personality profile as used in a 1948 experiment by Bertram Forer:

You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.

On a scale of 0 (very poor) to 5 (excellent), participants in the study rated the accuracy of the above statement as 4.26 (mean). Only after these ratings were provided did Forer reveal to the participants that all of them had been provided with the exact same statement.

It was after this experiment that Forer famously described the personal validation fallacy (or: the Forer effect)

In Tricks of the Mind (an excellent Christmas present for those interested in such things, by the way), Derren Brown discusses an updated version of this experiment that he conducted for his TV show of the same name. The fifteen participants in this experiment (from the U.K., U.S. and Spain) provided personal items to Brown (a traced outline of their hand, the time and date of their birth, and a small, every-day ‘personal object’), and in return were provided with personality profiles such as that above and were asked to mark its accuracy out of 100.

Three participants scored it poorly, between 40 and 50, while the remaining twelve rated the profile as highly accurate–one rating it as 99% accurate, while another was so drawn in to the profile that she believed the TV crew had secretly read her diary. Two more felt so revealed by the statement that they refused to discuss their profile on film.

Even though all participants in Brown’s experiment expected to receive a series of “vague and ambiguous statements” that could apply widely, they all still fell foul of the personal validation fallacy.

No matter how much we know, we seem unable to account for our biases and beliefs.

Seven Psychological Principles Con Artists Exploit

Inherent human vulnerabilities need to be taken into account when designing security systems/processes, suggests a study that looks at a dozen confidence tricks from the UK TV show The Real Hustle to determine recurring behavioural patterns con artists use to exploit victims.

The study was a collaboration between Frank Stajano of the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory and Paul Wilson, writer and producer of the aforementioned TV show (Wilson was an IT consultant for twelve years before moving into entertainment).

The seven principles of human behaviour that con artists exploit, according to the article:

  • The distraction principle: While you are distracted by what retains your interest, hustlers can do anything to you and you won’t notice.
  • The social compliance principle: Society trains people not to question authority. Hustlers exploit this “suspension of suspiciousness” to make you do what they want.
  • The herd principle: Even suspicious marks will let their guard down when everyone next to them appears to share the same risks. Safety in numbers? Not if they’re all conspiring against you.
  • The dishonesty principle: Anything illegal you do will be used against you by the fraudster, making it harder for you to seek help once you realize you’ve been had.
  • The deception principle: Thing and people are not what they seem. Hustlers know how to manipulate you to make you believe that they are.
  • The need and greed principle: Your needs and desires make you vulnerable. Once hustlers know what you really want, they can easily manipulate you.
  • The Time principle: When you are under time pressure to make an important choice, you use a different decision strategy. Hustlers steer you towards a strategy involving less reasoning.

via Schneier on Security

On Good and Bad Managers

Charisma, confidence and being vocal are key to being perceived as a leader, Time suggests after summarising some research on what makes people persuasive leaders.

Social psychologists know that one way to be viewed as a leader in any group is simply to act like one. Speak up, speak well and offer lots of ideas, and before long, people will begin doing what you say. This works well when leaders know what they’re talking about, but what if they don’t? If someone acts like a boss but thinks like a boob, is that still enough to stay on top?

The short answer is Yes, so “watch them closely and make sure they know what they’re doing and where they’re going”.

Reading about how we can be perceived as great managers simply by altering our external behaviour (rather than altering our internal behaviour or world view) reminded me of this piece, discussing reasons managers become great (via Kottke). Reasons included:

  • Enjoy helping people grow.
  • Love creating positive environments.
  • Care deeply about the success and well being of their team.
  • Succession mentality.
  • Practice of the golden rule: the ethic of reciprocity.
  • Self aware, including weaknesses.

The above was written as a compliment to Scott Berkum’s other list, reasons managers become assholes:

  • A boss they admired was an asshole.
  • They are insecure in their role.
  • They prefer intimidation to leadership.
  • Their life sucks.
  • They lose their way.
  • Promotion chasing.
  • Their management chain is toxic.
  • The Peter Principle.
  • They’re not assholes, they’re just insensitive or oblivious.
  • Madly in love with themselves.
  • They always were assholes.

Scams, Cons and the Psychology Behind Them

Back in January Jason pointed to Wikipedia’s list of confidence tricks; an educational and amusing read.

Now, the UK’s Office of Fair Trading has commissioned some research into why people fall victim to scams (pdf). According to the (260 page) report, here are the reasons why successful scams fool us:

  • Appeals to trust and authority.
  • Visceral triggers.
  • Scarcity cues.
  • Induction of behavioural commitment.
  • The disproportionate relation between the size of the alleged reward and the cost of trying to obtain it.
  • Lack of emotional control.

For a concise (and readable) overview of the paper’s findings, The Psychology of Being Scammed from Mind Hacks is what you should read. Vaughan sums up with:

It’s becoming clear that those things that we think make us resistant to scams (a keen analytical mind) are not what help us avoid being a victim.