Imagine you’re on a plane, and the pilot suddenly becomes incapacitated. 

If you were shown a short video of a pilot landing that plane, how confident would you be about doing it yourself?

New Zealand research into overconfidence found a surprisingly high number of people thought they could land a plane.

After seeing a short, non-instructional video, a quarter of people thought they could land a plane, research from the University of Waikato found.

The video was shown to 780 people and a retired Air New Zealand pilot told the researchers the video was “100 percent useless” for training purposes.

Co-author, PhD student Kayla Jordan, said these results demonstrate how easy it is for people to become overconfident in their skills with very little information or training.

This research, published last Wednesday, is part of a growing number of studies demonstrating this psychological phenomena, Jordan said. 

Another study asked people to watch a video multiple times of a skill such as throwing darts, and found people become overly confident in their own skill as a result.

Jordan said they intentionally picked an incredibly high stakes and highly skilled task like landing a plane to see if there was a limit to this.

“We thought landing a plane might be a barrier to overconfidence, but that wasn't the case,” Jordan said.

One explanation for this phenomena is called the Dunning-Kruger effect, Jordan said. 

The Dunning-Kruger effect is when those who know very little on a topic are highly confident in their expertise, but as a person discovers the complexities of it, they lose the confidence in their ability. 

It is only when someone genuinely becomes an expert on a topic that this confidence is regained.

Another factor was gender, with the study finding men to be more confident than women in every experiment.

Co-author of the paper, professor Maryanne Garry said, while some people thought they could land the plane after watching the video, in reality, “the answer should be zero, because you can’t”.Garry said this research has demonstrated how rapidly someone can convince themselves of their own skills and knowledge when it comes to incredibly complex systems - even if they only have a small amount of information.

In this case, it was a short video on landing a plane. 

But this could possibly also be applied to people googling complex topics to understand, like the Covid-19 pandemic.

Garry said the psychological concepts around overconfidence and the Dunning-Kruger effect have been applied to the spread of misinformation in recent years.

“These armchair epidemiologists during the pandemic astonished me - that people who aren't epidemiologists can look at data and confidently say ‘this is what we should do’.”

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