One of the components of self-knowledge is our capacity to predict how we will behave in certain situations. Another is our capacity to predict how well we have performed on a particular task. Both of these might be called forecasting errors.
In two recent studies, researchers found some amusing yet powerful insights into our capacity to forecast. The first (Williams, Dunning, & Kruger, 2013) found that people who rely on methods to achieve their results tend to be overconfident. Their familiarity with their own methodology blinds them to needs and opportunities. It is as though adherence to one’s method guaranteed stellar results. Apparently not! Methodicalness apparently has a tendency to reduce one’s attention to the task at hand—we focus on the method and not on the quality of the task itself.
Let’s say that I need to plan my second daughter’s wedding. It so happens that I created a detailed plan for my first daughter’s wedding. So, I pull out the plan (i.e., the method) and make the appropriate substitutions (names, and so forth). Then I begin with step one on through to the cleanup after the reception. I am likely to think I have done the perfect job. However, my reliance on my existing method has failed to take into account the unique features of #2’s wedding: she has some different values and preferences from #1, the politics of the soon-to-be-in-laws are dramatically different, the time of year is six months later, and so on. My confidence in my method will be in for a surprise when I hear the grumblings after all is said and done. My performance would have been better if I had made more of an effort to reinvent the wheel, as it were.
The second study (Zelenski et al, 2013) found that more introverted people tend to underestimate their level of enjoyment in situations where they must act more extraverted. In other words, “acting” extraverted, regardless of one’s trait level, provides a hedonic boon. For example, I am somewhat introverted, and I dread the times that I have to go to receptions (and their ilk) and schmooze for a couple of hours. I know I must do it, but before getting there I’m already dreading it and thinking that it’ll never end. However, when I arrive, within five minutes I’m engaged in a stimulating dialog with someone who knows more than I do about a recent news event–I’m pumping them for information and insight. When people begin to leave, I’m still going strong and having a ball.
The lesson from both findings is similar—enter each new experience with a sense of wonder. Look for meaning everywhere. It may not appear, but give it a chance nonetheless.
A thought—I wonder if more extraverted people underestimate the pleasure they will find when they make time for solitude? Or whether non-methodical people underestimate their performance? More opportunities for research!