The upper classes actually do believe they’re better, more skilled than others, study finds

The people with more education, income, and higher perceived social class believed they would do better on the test than others.

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People in higher classes have a sense of overconfidence and the idea that they are more skilled than they actually are, a new study indicates. Because of our cultural bias toward confidence, that bluster often works to their advantage in situations like job interviews, and that overconfidence is often interpreted as more capable.

“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 Peter Belmi, PhD, of the University of Virginia and lead author of the study, in a release. “Our research suggests that social class shapes the attitudes that people hold about their abilities.”


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Researchers from the US and Singapore performed four experiments to example class and to gauge people’s perceptions of their abilities.

In one, people played a flashcard game as a cognitive test. The people with more education, income, and higher perceived social class believed they would do better on the test than others, compared with the lower-class participants.

The next two experiments were online and involved over 1,400 participants. In one, researchers gave participants a trivia test. Participants from a higher social class thought they did better than most, however, they did not.

The last experiment involved a mock hiring interview, which was videotaped and watched by more than 900 judges, recruited online. When the judges rated each applicant’s competence, they tended to mix together overconfidence with 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 Belmi.

He pointed out the vast differences even between the middle and working class.

“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.

It’s not a universal trait to think you’re better than most, Belmi said.

“Our results suggest that this type of thinking might be more prevalent among the middle and upper classes.”

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


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Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.