Overprecision

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Over-precision is defined as human tendency to be sure judgements and decisions are accurate, uninterested in testing our assumptions and dismissive evidence that suggests we might be wrong. This leads us to draw narrow confidence intervals and to be too certain that we know the truth. We are more confident than we deserve to be regarding accuracy of our knowledge. Most of us are overconfident in the precision of our beliefs.

Experts

Perceived experts are even more over-precise. People predict to perform better in domains where they are perceived experts. For instance: an experiment asked students to answer questions about IT. Participants who had “more precise” knowledge specified narrower confidence intervals. Too narrow ranges failed to capture correct answers.

People act as if they know the truth. In uncertain situations, they draw too narrow intervals and fails to shift their actions. Individuals underestimate uncertainties involved.

Real life situations

Excess confidence can have potential adverse effects. Consider a surgeon who persuades to agree on operation. The likelihood of survival is 95%. If the patient does, was he one of the 5% unlucky ones or did the surgeon make overprecise estimation? In 1997, Korean air flight 801 crashed because the pilot was “sure” what he was doing and did not listen to concerns of flight engineers.

Good managers realistically appraise risks, dangers and errors. They make forecasts of uncertain events such as number of people to hire, manufacturing plants to build, units to produce and so on. This depends on future sales.

Causes

Internal dissonance

Over-precision springs from the desire to relieve internal dissonance (state of tension) regarding the right decision (course of action). People in a stressful state of tension feel motivated to relieve this dissonance, even if this requires them to change what they believe.

Persuasiveness

Outward expression of confidence help others to feel sure about us. Those who express confidence, earn trust, credibility and status. We find confident people more persuasive. Consequently, we see them as more capable and thus tend to elevate in the positions of status and influence.

Byproduct of cognitive processes

Human mind is better at searching memory for evidence that confirms our beliefs. It is easier for us to generate supportive evidence. We overestimate the accuracy of out knowledge and truth of our tentative hypothesis. The process occurs automatically without conscious awareness.

Consequences

Reluctance of feedback and advice

Over-precision makes us too reluctant to take advice from others, being suspicious of those whose views differ from our own. We are too quick to act on our opinions and too slow to update our beliefs. Reluctant to revise our beliefs, we tend to ignore feedback from others on the problems that we face. Rationally thinking, we should weight others’ knowledge equally with our own and average the estimates. However, we give substantially less weight to others’ advice (including very useful advice) than our own opinions and our accuracy suffers as a result.

Naive realism

Thinking that the way we see the world is the only sensible way, we are subjects to naive realism. Considering others’ perspective takes energy and attention. This requires us to move from comfortable familiarity of how we are used ti seeing the things to the unfamiliar vantage point of an outside view. We assume that those who see things differently are either stupid (not seeing the facts right) or evil (seeing the truth but misrepresenting it for their own ends). We are unwilling to consider other perspectives and find common ground.

Faith in judgements

When we have too much faith in our own judgements, we face difficulties to accurately predict e.g. work performance. We are biased in interview processes, personnel selection and other. Interviews are not actually predictive of future performance. Instead, managers should use analytical tests such as IQ tests.

Recommendations

Psychological and social forces push as towards unwanted self-assurance. This happens in an unconscious level. Here are some recommendations that might help to avoid this.

Interventions that force people to think alternatively and induce greater realism are often effective at shaking overconfidence. Thinking about why you might be wrong can help us correct for the influence of the confirmation bias. For instance: one could ask for the likelihood of alternative outcomes. This could increase the accuracy of our judgements. We could also anticipate our biases, correct them and thus avoid errors they cause.

 

Bazerman, M.H. and Moore, D.A., 1994. Judgment in managerial decision making (p. 226). New York: Wiley.

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