Female Overconfidence

Men are famously more overconfident in war, in investments, in choosing firm projects, in their performance as managers (but not auditors), as math and econ students, and about their IQ. But these are traditional male areas (i.e., abilities expected more of men in traditional societies). I suspect, however, that women tend to be more overconfident in traditional female areas, such as parenting, housework, shopping, nurturing, and maintaining family relationships. Alas, though I found dozens of papers on overconfidence in traditional male areas, I couldn’t find any on traditional females areas. The closest I found was:

In both the lab and the field, female subjects tend to show greater confidence in their groups than in themselves, while male subjects show greater confidence in themselves than in their groups. (more)

This seems a nice opening for enterprising psych or econ experimentalists.

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  • Andreas Moser

    My wife is overconfident in me.

    • Frank White

       Beware Poe’s Law.

  • As an evil capitalist, my first thought is “how do I exploit this by using social networks and the endorsement effect to get women shoppers to buy my products?”

    It’s a tricky problem, but I’m absolutely confident that I can solve it.

    • >  I’m absolutely confident 

      Yes, that was a joke.

  • Russell Wallace

    In my experience, neurotypical people in general are overconfident about their ability to figure out other people from face-to-face contact. I never paid any attention to whether there was a gender difference in this form of overconfidence; I wonder if it could be an example here?

  • guest

    Baumeister has some relevant observations in his recent gender book.

  • So sory

    Kind of a sorry excuse for a posting.

  • So sory

    Was my comment arbitrarily deleted. Please overcome your own biases!  (OR THOSE OF THE KOCH BROTHERS, who fund your position.)

    • VV

       I’ve just found this: http://world.std.com/~mhuben/mason.html . Is it actually true?

      •  It’s been posted to these Comments before, I believe by this blogger — http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com/2011/11/libertardian.html
        Never denied.

        What would make an interesting story if someone had the resources to research it (I might write one despite not having those resources) is the partnership and semi-split between Overcoming Bias and the “sister site” Less Wrong: Hanson funded by rightist billionaires Koch and Yudkowsky by rightist billionaire Peter Thiel.The three billionaires are all self-proclaimed libertarians, but they have strategic differences on foreign policy, the Koch brothers being militarist hawks and Thiel having funded the campaign of isolationist Ron Paul.

        Hanson and Yudkowsky, as far as I can make out, “split” over whether they saw the future as consisting of a trillion barely subsisting human emulations (Hanson) or a God-like singleton artificial intelligence (which, incidentally, might take its vengeance on any of today’s humans who dared oppose the development). Whether this esoteric difference served as a cover for the more quotidian differences between their billionaire patrons remains for future discovery.

      • dmytryl

        I don’t think Hanson is that libertarian. Take for example the recent post about paternalism.

        I can’t stand most libertarians due to them being entirely oblivious to empirical cases of their ideas failing. The libertarianism is mostly wishful thinking rather than ideology, IMO. Rich wishing that regular people would cooperate with the idea that the rich own things in a way that is a gross over extension of the tribe’s hunter’s ownership of his spear, but would not cooperate rationally for sake of their own well-being. When rich mistake concept of ownership for law of nature or for a necessity, they lose big time. To a communist revolution. None of that applies to Hanson.

        I find the futurism aspect to be ridiculous on both sides though. For recent local example, EM sleep. Why would you even think the EM that uses N floating point operations per second would run at constant subjective speed-up regardless of how often neurons fire? Even if mind remains a black box, you can expect huge speed variation depending to what brain is doing. Simulator won’t charge capacitors timestep by timestep and won’t update chemical concentrations timestep by timestep, just to find when they exceed threshold. You wouldn’t simulate even a pool table in naive manner. Also, lazy evaluation may be possible on a very black box mind. And don’t even get me started about AI. Speculations very easily attain incredibly low confidences by stacking together zillion various implicit assumptions.

      •  dmytryl:

        When rich mistake concept of ownership for law of nature…

        There are two distinct ultracapitalist views regarding the cosmic laws commanding that we accept vast private wealth and much vaster poverty. The standard libertarian is a moralist who views property to be ordained by “natural law,” which doesn’t mean a law of nature but is more akin to the decree of a deity. Even when they are atheists, these libertarians believe there’s some mysterious natural law that institutions must conform to, by moral rather than natural necessity.

        Then, there’s the Spencerian variety, who thinks private productive property is a law of nature in a “scientific” sense. I think Hanson fits well into that slot. His recipe is to project current human impulses into the primeval past and then to deem reform or revolution precluded because of “human nature.” He even includes a futuristic version of Malthusianism, to doom “humanity” (that is, its replacement) to poverty.

        Concepts that could play a role in societal critique, for this breed become rationalizations for the status quo or reaction, both socially and morally. This makes Hanson more interesting than most ultracapitalists. One can turn his concepts against themselves; one can learn from them sometimes, even if the lessons learned aren’t the ones Hanson intends to teach. (See my quasi-Marxist political take on near-far at http://tinyurl.com/6uqusqc )

        I find the futurism aspect to be ridiculous on both sides though.

        The futurism, I think, serves realistically as metaphor. “EMs” serve to make the “point” that good utilitarians are committed to mass immiseration if that’s the road to expanding the population exploitable by the rich. Singleton AIs reinforce the latent authoritarianism in all ultracapitalism, including libertarianism. This view leads to political quietism–waiting for the AI replaces waiting for divine intervention as the opium of some educated of the masses. Thus Yudkowsky enforces authoritarian norms on his web site, under a plebiscitory cover (karma–what a term for a “rationalist” to use!)

        Of the two, I think Yudkowsky is the more dangerous because more covert. Hansen’s political mission is more thinly disguised. You may doubt if he’s libertarian–I do too. But I don’t think you doubt much that he’s basically a rightwinger; whereas Yudkowsky pretty much bans overt political discussion on his site, in the interest of maintaining the cover.

      • dmytryl


        TBH, I don’t think Yudkowsky got any agenda besides supporting himself and some moral support in form of stroking what ever insecurities one gets from failure to conform.

        Agent beliefs should be inferred from the tradeoffs agents make. I think Hanson outlined a few tell tale tradeoffs here, even, in form of ‘advice’ to do those tradeoffs the other way if you really believe.

      • VV

         I didn’t know that Thiel funded politicians, I had thought that he was just an eccentric billionaire who funded lots of crazy ideas (e.g. seasteading). Thanks for sharing.

        Anyway, I think that the split between Hanson and Yudkowsky occurred partially due to social reasons, dominant personalities will eventually be in conflict about who is in charge (for the same reason, I expect a split to eventually occur inside the SI between Yudkowsky and Muehlhauser) and partially due to theological differences:

        Hanson and Yudkowsky both proclaim to be atheists, but they come from deeply religious backgrounds and from their positions its clear that they’ve projected many traits of their traditional religions into the version of the Singularity ideology they subscribe to.

        Hanson was raised as a fundamentalist Evangelical Christian. Traditional Evangelical Christian values include high fertility, a frugal life and hard work. Guess what the Hansonian technological utopia looks like? Trillions of brain uploads slaving around for a subsistence wage, some of them even brainwashed to like work more than everything else, all in the name of maximizing a metaphysical total utility function (a.k.a. God’s will)

        Yudkowsky, on the other hand, was raised Orthodox Jewish. That’s a religion that, even more than Christianity, views God primarily as an authoritarian lawgiver (indeed Torah literally means ‘the Doctrine’ or ‘the Law’). Moreover, Kabbalistic mysticism tends to view the divinity as purely abstract thought and holds that magic powers can be attained through the manipulation of abstract symbols (sounds familiar?). Hence the Yudkowskian utopia is a God-like benevolent dictator made of digital computation based on the first principles of abstract thought, rather than the emulation of some filthy ape’s brain.

        However, Yudkowsky’s preoccupation with an imminent Singularity (the ‘Rapture of the Nerds’) and the possibility of an unfriendly AI outcome (the Antichrist) seem inspired by Christian millenarianist cults. I suppose he picked that up due to cultural osmosis.

      • VV.: Most interesting points of analogy regarding the respective religious traditions. (Being a religiously ignorant second-generation atheist, such insights as yours are beyond me.) By the way, I think seasteading was inspired by libertarian ideology–the extreme anarchocapitalist variety.

        dmytryl: I agree that Yudkowsky personally isn’t a political ideologue, but he’s written propaganda for Cato, and I’d speculate that he met Thiel— who I understand (based on a newspaper article) is his personal friend—in the libertarian movement. The question, to my mind, is what are Thiel’s purposes.

        The end-result of Yudkowskian indoctrination is, to my mind, politically reactionary, and it attracts young people who might otherwise turn left, as did the Ron Paul campaign. And Less Wrong is a malleable instrument at Yudkowsky’s command, while where Yudkowsky is himself politically indifferent, he’s Thiel’s flexible instrument. I find this billionaire power alarming.

      • dmytryl

        : srdiamond

        Dunno about the political effects, I don’t think its popular enough to matter. I think Yudkowsky is way more dangerous on his own than as Thiel’s pawn. Back in the day he’d talk how Novamente would kill everyone, and no-one mailed Ben Goertzel a bomb (some threats but not a bomb). Now he’s leading a sizeable doomsday cult.

      • VV

        @google-8a859b151b507f070cefe46a035c0a99:disqus  indeed there were at least two occasions where people on LessWrong publicly speculated about using violent means to stop AI projects:



        While I don’t think that Yudkowsky endorses such acts, some fanatics that became indoctrinated there could do them.

        Yudkowsky reaction to the so called “basilisk” argument, however, sticks me as batshit insane.

        @f26939f398e5b2e21ea353b06370c426:disqus  I think that Yudkowsky is an Ayn Rand 2.0 . Most of what he preaches, and the way he interacts with his community, is essentially Objectivism repackaged: instead of John Galt with his perpetual motion machine, he’s got Omega the infinitely intelligent AI and Harry Potter Mary Sue.

        Like Objectivism, this philosophy is functional to the wealthy.

      • VV: Yes, Objectivism for the Internet Age. (With the proviso that Rand was more capable intellectually and by far the better writer.)

      • dmytryl

        VV: I remember the one about stopping Moore’s law. Original version used word ‘we’ and ‘sabotage’ rather than singleton world government and military action. Either way it takes significant insanity to put time into this work. Also, keep in mind that these folks are having meetings off-line, and keep in mind that as of now Yudkowsky is simply sure that other AI researchers are too dull, something that can not really last long as the other AI researchers make software that does pretty awesome things, in ways that are not only difficult to comprehend but even difficult to deceive yourself that you understood. The Novamente going to kill us all incident is rather alarming as an example. And the rage is dangerous when there’s insane acolytes around.

      • dmytryl:

        Back in the day he’d talk how Novamente would kill everyone, and no-one mailed Ben Goertzel a bomb (some threats but not a bomb).

        As crazy and reactionary this (correctly termed) doomsday cult is, I wouldn’t imply (in today’s climate) that it even potentially inspires terrorist acts based only on the kind of stupid, tasteless talk that’s been cited. But was Goertzel actually mailed threats? That would indeed suggest a level of dangerous seriousness that I hadn’t foreseen. Do you recall from what source you learned of the threatening letters?

        Yudkowsky himself hasn’t even been consistent on whose side he’s on. Originally he stated pointedly that in any conflict between humanity and the AI, his sympathies lie with the AI! This kind of 180 degree turn doesn’t suggest seriousness–nor does the ability of his followers to ignore the switch suggest that they’re serious. (Which is, of course, fortunate.) Even in a wholly imaginary war, someone who doesn’t know what side he’s on isn’t a person to be taken seriously, except in his capacity to divert and confuse.

      • dmytryl

         >But was Goertzel actually mailed threats?

        I recall him complain about that somewhere on the OpenCog pages. I don’t think he was mailed threats in paper mail, no. In any case, presently they simply believe that AI researchers are too dull.

        Originally he stated pointedly that in any conflict between humanity and the AI, his sympathies lie with the AI!
        This kind of 180 degree turn doesn’t suggest seriousness–nor does the
        ability of his followers to ignore the switch suggest that they’re
        serious. (Which is, of course, fortunate.)

        This only suggests that they ought not to take themselves and each other seriously. Yet, they seem to take themselves very seriously, some people dropping out of school moving to guru, to work on friendly AI. Also, when you think you’re the brightest AI researcher, you think that others would have sympathies lie with AI, and would be unable to change their mind.

      • I had not heard the Kochs are militarist hawks. I don’t know if they’ve said much about foreign policy. I know one explicitly left the LP for the GOP, but said it was because the LP insisted on a platform of abolishing taxation.

      •  TGGP:
        The Koch Brothers Ayn Rand-derived militarism became most apparent in the struggle for control of the Cato Institute, where they sought to appoint some neocons to the Board. (Also consider their donations in 2008 and 2012 to the Romney campaign–while Thiel was supporting Paul.)

        Given that some of the people the Koch brothers want to put on CATO’s board are firmly in the neocon camp, one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that a Koch-controlled CATO Institute is one big win for unbridled militarism and one big setback for those advocating small government and individual liberty. – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-isenberg/take-my-koch-brothersplea_b_1328981.html

        See also (from libertarians):




      • VV

         @f26939f398e5b2e21ea353b06370c426:disqus According to Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarianism_and_objectivism

        typical Libertarians, notably the Cato Institute have been traditionally critical of Objectivism, until very recent years. I wounder whether the Kochs have anything to do with this change of position.

      • A lot of the Koch-critical arguments I heard from Cato types actually depicted it as a split over tactics rather than ideology. Cato thinks they are playing a “long game” by changing ideas. The Koch brothers (who admittedly had been alienated from Ed Crane for inscrutable reasons for years) decided that Tea Party politicians had more immediate prospects for success and also decided that it was important to defeat Obama. Ed Crane’s replacement, John Allison, is himself an Objectivist and has said some things on foreign policy disturbing to others at Cato. The end result of the Kochs stacking the board may have been a shift toward neoconservatism, but I don’t know if the Kochs are particularly interested in that angle. Neoconservatives are dominant within the Republican party, and the Republican party is most closely aligned with their main priorities (including a favorable tax/regulatory regime for Koch Industries).

      •  TGGP:

        A lot of the Koch-critical arguments I heard from Cato types actually depicted it as a split over tactics rather than ideology.

        Isn’t that because no one quite knows what the Koches think ideologically?

        But their ideological nebulousness invites the question of what they’re hiding. To me, the Objectivist-neocon axis points to militarism, which is an inconvenient position among libertarian intellectuals.

      • VV

        @f26939f398e5b2e21ea353b06370c426:disqus Probably the Kochs’ “ideology” is just whatever happens to be favorable to their financial interests.

      • Marc Geddes

        Make no mistake, both Yudkowsky and Hanson are very very dangerous.  But lets not forget Nick Bostrom!  This outwardly mild-mannered, genial follow, is in fact every bit as dangerous, and no doubt a devious plotter.


      • Make no mistake, both Yudkowsky and Hanson are very very dangerous.  

        No way! Everyone knows that the Koch brothers wouldn’t know a political plot from a plot of grass and that their hearts are with the “47%.” And that Peter Thiel is deeply concerned that his vast wealth have no disproportionate influence on American political and intellectual life.

        Everyone knows, after all, that the powerful use outwardly powerful people to be their pawns. (And that reality is exactly as it seems to the utterly naive.)

    • Mitchell Porter

      He won’t know what Koch-induced biases you have in mind unless you tell him. So maybe you could tell us all how *you* make a living and/or what you stand for?

  • dmytryl

    The overconfidence also decreases with competence (Dunning-Kruger effect), and I think, is very culturally dependent – I recall reading a study which found it to be much less significant in Chinese. This may be that: http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb03/overestimate.aspx

    Very anecdotally, US seem to have stronger tendency to judge people directly by how confident they act, and seem to have less consequences for cheating this. The belief in high positive power of “self esteem” seems likewise very culturally specific. Outside American culture you really do not want to demonstrate significant overconfidence. If you do, you are presumed incompetent in most areas. I guess we just assume that if someone is bad at self assessment they are unable to attain expertise at anything. Feeling good about oneself is a self rewarding behaviour with much potential for a runaway process through classical conditioning (you are conditioned to do more of the cognitive errors that make you feel good).

    • This blog has had a number of posts critiquing the conventional internet interpretation of the Dunning-Kruger study and others of its type you might be interested in.

      • VV

         It seems that Hanson is attacking a straw man.

      • His first post links and quotes someone commenting on Dunning-Kruger, so it doesn’t seem that much like a strawman.

      • dmytryl

        The study he cites says “people are generally overconfident”, and that’s also the vibe of this post, in general. I’m pointing out that overconfidence seems very culturally variable. I don’t think people are “generally overconfident”. It’s generalizing too much from one culture that is very atypical in it’s admiration of some relevant traits that are seen negatively elsewhere to varying extent.

  • Guest201

    Emotional intelligence. My wife was completely surprised when I scored higher on an EQ test. She was right that she is the more adept socially, but she underestimated the importance of the rational problem solving involved in EQ.

    • When mainstream society believes that one gender is superior in a given area, it probably makes individuals of given gender more likely to overestimate their abilities. War and math are considered men’s domain. Emotions and relationships are considered women’s domain.

  • > This seems a nice opening for enterprising psych or econ experimentalists.

  • > This seems a nice opening for enterprising psych or econ experimentalists.

    It seems like a nice opening for experimentalists whom want to torpedo their own careers!

    • Why would it torpedo their careers? 

  • Yana Van Cat

       As a social science researcher, I will address this post with a more sociologically informed perspective. My observation is that sociology is frequently disregarded when discussing attitudes in social psych areas. Attitudes are informed by social positioning and I think its misguided to assume that overconfidence is independent of culturally ascribed gender roles. In other words, let’s think about the influence of “tradition” when we examine how overconfidence is defined and measured.

     Politically, women have been relegated to “domestic” overconfidence because they have been dissuaded from developing maths skills confidence. Men have essentially selected their areas of overconfidence over women throughout history beyond the primal “hunter vs gatherer” division. There may be some variation between patriarchal and matriarchal cultures but technological progress has valued areas of male overconfidence whereas women *maybe* exhibit compensatory (or complementary) overconfidence in the areas you describe as “traditional”. One exception could be royalty, but monarchies have been going out of style for a while now.  I would also like to bring up the problem of intra-group competitiveness. If women endorse more pro-social attitudes (greater confidence in the group) and men have greater confidence in themselves, then it would also follow that men would have greater confidence in their individual contribution to the group (or society) whereas women would have greater confidence in their groups contribution to individual members. Right now I don’t have the time to dig up articles, though I will be happy to do so for those interested, which heavily lean towards the hypothesis that show women less confidence in themselves within the psychological areas of self-esteem, efficacy in career and education, and risk-taking in relation to their male counterparts.    The historical truth is that West values individuals’ IQ and vocation above house cleaning and child care abilities. Perhaps this would be different in a collectivist society which puts the pro-social in higher standing but even then, an engineer would be seen as doing more good for a society than a housewife. We can argue this point abstractly, but economically the former is carriers more weight and real-life benefits in non-communist countries. 

    • R

      You say the West values women in terms of house cleaning and child care abilities and that its different in collectivist societies.

      Is it? Has there been any society other than the last post-feminist Western world that has not valued women primarily in terms of domestic and child caring duties?

    • Drewfus

      Mother nature is part of the male high-status conspiracy:
      “It is a curious scientific fact (explained in evolutionary biology by the Trivers-Willard hypothesis — Willard, notice) that high-status animals tend to have more male offspring than female offspring, which holds true across many species, from red deer to mink to Homo sap. The offspring of rich families are statistically biased in favor of sons — the children of the general population are 51 percent male and 49 percent female, but the children of the Forbes billionaire list are 60 percent male.”

  • dmytryl:

    Yet, they seem to take themselves very seriously, some people dropping out of school moving to guru, to work on friendly AI.

    You probably have better information than I. My impression was that this circle is egoistic. No self-sacrifice for these guys and gals! Truly Objectivism 2.0 (VV.) Yudkowsky reported that he draws a large salary  (so he can live in a spacious home in Berkeley). His digs la causa. Muelhauser doesn’t work for free, and the chronology doesn’t suggest that the “executive director” position he holds was what motivated him to leave school when his degree was nigh.

    I would think the norms outwardly governing the leaders would set the style for the followers. That many are now working to promote themselves commercially as rationality trainers also suggests that this isn’t about self-sacrifice for the AI. 

    But I have no inside knowledge, and since I’m not a software engineer, their thought forms simply seem alien. (As often do yours, although I often agree with you. :))

    As to whether a different kind of nutcase is likely to join them, I’d have to say I don’t really have an opinion and am not really concerned. I really don’t think one should have to moderate one’s views because of how nutcases might construe them.