Those Who Are Overconfident Convince Others They Are More Competent

(p. B6) What is it about an elite upbringing that seems to make people feel qualified for tasks where they have little experience? This is one of the questions that inspired a study published Monday in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The researchers suggest that part of the answer involves what they call “overconfidence.” In several experiments, they found that people who came from a higher social class were more likely to have an inflated sense of their skills — even when tests proved that they were average. This unmerited overconfidence, they found, was interpreted by strangers as competence.

. . .

In an attempt to understand the implications of overconfidence, the researchers constructed a mock job interview. The students were asked the same question and videotaped. A group of strangers then watched the videos and rated the candidates. The selection committee generally opted for the same people who’d overestimated their trivia abilities. Overconfidence was misinterpreted as competence.

. . .

So how do managers, employers, voters and customers avoid overvaluing social class and being duped by incompetent wealthy people? Dr. Kennedy said she had been encouraged to find that if you show people actual facts about a person, the elevated status that comes with overconfidence often fades away.

“We may also need to punish overconfident behavior more than we do,” she said.

For the full story, see:

Heather Murphy. “Why High-Class People Think They Know More, and Why You Believe Them.” The New York Times (Tuesday, May 21, 2019): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 20, 2019, and has the title “Why High-Class People Get Away With Incompetence.”)

The study mentioned above from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is:

Belmi, Peter, Margaret A. Neale, David Reiff, and Rosemary Ulfe. “The Social Advantage of Miscalibrated Individuals: The Relationship between Social Class and Overconfidence and Its Implications for Class-Based Inequality.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (May 20, 2019), published online in advance of print publication.

SpotMini Robot Looks Like a Dog, but “Is Like a Hollow Doll”

(p. B3) Last time in this esteemed newsletter, my colleague Steve Lohr warned that automation would change the economy. But as he also explained, jobs are “more likely to be transformed by digital technology than destroyed by it.” This becomes clear as you look a little closer at the progress of robotics, including everything from the robotic arms that help build stuff in factories to the jaw-droppingly agile machines under development at a company called Boston Dynamics.

This past week, I wrote about Boston Dynamics, which runs a semi-secretive lab in Waltham, Mass., about 10 miles outside Boston. Built to move like animals and even humans, its machines are truly amazing (as YouTube watchers will attest).

At times, you can’t help but think of these mechanical creations as living things. The company will start selling one of them, a doglike robot called SpotMini, in the coming year. But even Boston Dynamics is not quite sure what these robots are actually good for.

Robots play tricks on the mind. We tend to think they are more advanced than they really are, perhaps because of science fiction movies or because our brains are wired to believe in bots. This is particularly true when it comes to the biomimetic machines inside a lab like Boston Dynamics.

“When we see a biped that looks like a person or a quadruped that looks like a dog, we project our previous experiences with people and dogs onto these machines. But, in fact, there is nothing inside,” said Gill Pratt, who worked with Boston Dynamics as an official at Darpa, a research arm of the Defense Department, and is now exploring new forms of robotics as the chief executive of the Toyota Research Institute. “It is like a hollow doll.”

For the full commentary, see:

Cade Metz. “The Week in Tech; Robots Are Improving Quickly, But They Can Still Be Dumb.” The New York Times (Monday, Oct. 1, 2018): B3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 28, 2018, and has the title “The Week in Tech; The Robots Aren’t as Human as They Seem.”)

Caring Bonds Among Sentient Beings Refute “Anthropodenial”

(p. 1) The two old friends hadn’t seen each other lately. Now one of them was on her deathbed, crippled with arthritis, refusing food and drink, dying of old age. Her friend had come to say goodbye. At first she didn’t seem to notice him. But when she realized he was there, her reaction was unmistakable: Her face broke into an ecstatic grin. She cried out in delight. She reached for her visitor’s head and stroked his hair. As he caressed her face, she draped her arm around his neck and pulled him closer.

The mutual emotion so evident in this deathbed reunion was especially moving and remarkable because the visitor, Dr. Jan Van Hooff, was a Dutch biologist, and his friend, Mama, was a chimpanzee. The event — recorded on a cellphone, shown on TV and widely shared on the internet — provides the opening story and title for the ethologist Frans de Waal’s game-changing new book, “Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves.” Continue reading “Caring Bonds Among Sentient Beings Refute “Anthropodenial””

Your Passion Is Not “Found,” It Is Developed with “Time, Effort and Investment”

(p. B7) People “often assume that their own interest or passion just needs to be ‘found’ or revealed. Once revealed, it will be in a fully formed state,” said Paul A. O’Keefe, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. Nonsense, of course, he said.

“By that logic, pursuing one’s passion should come with boundless motivation and should be relatively easy,” he said.

Dr. O’Keefe was part of a team that published a study in 2018 that examined how two different “implicit theories of interest” impacted how people approach new potential passions. One, the fixed theory, says that our interests are relatively fixed and unchanging, while the other, the growth theory, suggests our interests are developed over time and not necessarily innate to our personality.

In other words: Do we truly find our passions, or develop them over time? (You can probably guess where this is going.)

The researchers found that people who hold a fixed theory had less interest in things outside of their current interests, were less likely to anticipate difficulties when pursuing new interests, and lost interest in new things much quicker than people who hold a growth theory. In essence, people with a growth mind-set of interest tend to believe that interests and passions are capable of developing with enough time, effort and investment.

“This comes down to the expectations people have when pursuing a passion,” Dr. O’Keefe said. “Someone with a fixed mind-set of interest might begin their pursuit with lots of enthusiasm, but it might diminish once things get too challenging or tedious.”

Passion alone won’t carry you through in the face of difficulty, he said, when overcoming those challenges actually counts.

For the full story, see:

Stephanie Lee. “Finding Your Passion’ Takes Some Work.” The New York Times (Monday, May 6, 2019): B7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 21 [sic], 2019, and has the title “Why ‘Find Your Passion’ Is Such Terrible Advice.”)

The academic article discussed above, is:

O’Keefe, Paul A., Carol S. Dweck, and Gregory M. Walton. “Implicit Theories of Interest: Finding Your Passion or Developing It?” Psychological Science 29, no. 10 (Oct. 2018): 1653-64.

“Confidence Stops You from Learning”

(p. A15) Mr. Karlgaard, a former publisher of Forbes magazine, has plenty of vivid anecdotes to make his case for late bloomers.

. . .

Bill Walsh, the great coach of the San Francisco 49ers, got his first NFL head coaching job when he was 46 and won his first Super Bowl at 50. He was famously twitchy, self-deprecating and eager to learn, and had this to say about confidence: “In my whole career I’ve been passing men with greater bravado and confidence. Confidence gets you off to a fast start. Confidence gets you that first job and maybe the next two promotions. But confidence stops you from learning. Confidence becomes a caricature after a while. I can’t tell you how many confident blowhards I’ve seen in my coaching career who never got better after the age of forty.”

Late bloomers, Mr. Karlgaard argues, are not just people of great talent who develop later in their lives. They also possess qualities that can only be acquired through time and experience. They tend to be more curious, compassionate, resilient and wise than younger people of equal talent. This may be true, Mr. Karlgaard notes, of older people generally, who are being flushed out of the workforce much too early.

For the full review, see:

Philip Delves Broughton. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Standing Against Psychiatry’s Crazes.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, April 30, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 29, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Late Bloomers’ Review: Please Don’t Rush Me.”)

The book under review, is:

Karlgaard, Rich. Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement. New York: Currency, 2019.

Machine Learning Finds Female Brains Age Slower Than Male Brains

(p. C4)  . . .  there is fresh evidence that women not only have a longevity advantage; their brains seem to be more youthful throughout adulthood, too.

The new study, published last month [February 2019] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, was led by radiologist Manu Goyal and neurologist Marcus Raichle, both at the Washington University School of Medicine.

. . .

The researchers used machine learning to detect distinctive patterns in the brains they studied. “When we trained it on males and tested it on females, then it guessed the female’s brain age to be three to four years younger than the women’s chronological age,” said Dr. Goyal. Conversely, when the machine was trained to see female metabolic patterns as the standard, it guessed men’s brains to be two to three years older than they actually were. That difference in metabolic brain age added up to approximately a three year advantage for women.

These brain age differences persisted across the adult lifespan and were visible even when people’s brains showed the harbingers of Alzheimer’s disease. “These new findings provide yet more evidence, as if more were needed, of just how ubiquitous sex influences on brain function have proven to be, often showing up in places we least expect them,” said Larry Cahill, a neuroscientist who studies sex differences in the brain at University of California, Irvine.

For the full commentary, see:

(Note:  the online version of the commentary has the date March 27, 2019.)

The published research summarized above, is:

Goyal, Manu S., Tyler M. Blazey, Yi Su, Lars E. Couture, Tony J. Durbin, Randall J. Bateman, Tammie L. S. Benzinger, John C. Morris, Marcus E. Raichle, and Andrei G. Vlassenko. “Persistent Metabolic Youth in the Aging Female Brain.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116, no. 8 (Feb. 19, 2019): 3251-3255.

Dogs Feel Guilt When They Hurt Their Humans

(p. 6) Dr. Horowitz concluded that whether dogs take on a guilty look — lowered gaze, ears pressed back, tail rapidly beating between the legs — is unrelated to whether or not they followed orders. If the owner scolds them, they look extremely guilty. If the owner doesn’t, they still sometimes look like this, but less often.

One problem, however, is that our rules are of our own making, such as “Don’t jump on that couch!” or “Keep your nails off my leather chair!” It must be as tough for our pets to grasp these prohibitions as it was for me to understand why I couldn’t chew gum in Singapore.

It would be better to test behavior that is wrong by almost any standard, including that of their own species. The Austrian ethologist Konrad Lorenz gave one of my favorite examples, about his dog, Bully, who broke the fundamental rule never to bite your superior.

Humans don’t need to teach this rule, and indeed Bully had never been punished for it. The dog bit his master’s hand when Dr. Lorenz (p. 7) tried to break up a dogfight. Even though Dr. Lorenz petted him right away, Bully suffered a complete nervous breakdown. For days, he was virtually paralyzed and ignored his food. He would lie on the rug breathing shallowly, occasionally interrupted by a deep sigh. He had violated a natural taboo, which among ancestral canines could have had the worst imaginable consequences, such as expulsion from the pack.

For the full commentary, see:

(Note:  the online version of the commentary has the date March 8, 2019.)