Why High-Class People Get Away With Incompetence

Why High-Class People Get Away With Incompetence, by Heather Murphy.

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. …

Researchers said they hoped that the takeaway was not to strive to be overconfident. Wars, stock market crashes and many other crises can be blamed on overconfidence, they said. 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.