Confidence, Part I

Confidence is defined as our degree of belief that a certain thought or action is correct. There is confidence in your own individual decisions or perceptions and then the between person confidence where you defer your own decision making to someone else.

Why am I thinking of confidence? An article by Cass Sunstein explains it well. The article appeared in Bloomberg, Politics & Policy, October 18, 2018, Bloomberg Opinion, “Donald Trump is Amazing. Here’s the Science to Prove It.”

Sunstein brings up the “confidence heuristic ,” which suggests that when people express beliefs to one another, their level of confidence usually reflects how certain they are. It suggests to us how much information they have. When we are listening to others, we are more likely to be persuaded by people who seem really confident.

Sunstein notes that research has shown that groups tend to be most influenced by the views of their most confident member. Most of us are more likely to find confident people to be credible. Sure, confidence isn’t a magic bullet. If people who are confident are shown to be wrong, their credibility will suffer. But they usually get the benefit of the doubt.

For this reason, Sunstein believes that we should revise our understanding of the whole idea of the “confidence man” – con man, for short. It’s usually thought that the con man finds a way to earn people’s trust, and then takes advantage of them. But when con men succeed, it’s usually because they enlist the confidence heuristic. They don’t show any doubts. They act as if they know what they are doing. They provide simple clear rhetoric while downplaying tradeoffs. Many successful politicians show an intuitive awareness of the confidence heuristic. Sunstein writes:

“But President Trump outdoes  – not through wit, humor or charm, but through a kind of joyful, thuggish certainty about his own amazingness. “I alone can fix it,” he said during the campaign. “Nobody’s ever done a better job than I’m doing as president,” he says now.

Now the confidence heuristic is not the only thing Trump takes advantage of, but we will leave those for another time. I will also avoid the question of whether or not Trump is actually confident.