FC05 – Confidence and Overconfidence

Lecturer: Vivek Nityananda
Fields: Psychology, Animal Behaviour


Decision-making in human and animal societies often uses a confidence heuristic – trusting the decisions made by confident individuals. This could have the benefit of quick decision-making without having to explore risky options yourself. However, confidence is a good guide to decisions only if it reflects accuracy. When the trusted individuals are overconfident, this results in risky and often catastrophic decisions. Despite the possibility of these negative outcomes, overconfidence persists and is widespread. What are then the advantages of overconfidence? Using an evolutionary perspective demonstrates the individual and social rewards of overconfidence. This also helps us understand how we can make the most of confidence while avoiding the obvious costs of overconfidence.

Session 1: Trusting confidence, measuring overconfidence

Session 2: Evidence for overconfidence 

Session 3: The advantages of overconfidence

Session 4: Overcoming overconfidence


  • Understanding how cognition is studied in a comparative approach that includes humans and other animals.
  • Encouraging an evolutionary approach to thinking about psychological biases.
  • Applying psychological ideas in real world situations.



Vivek Nityananda has a PhD in Animal Behaviour from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He was worked at the University of Minnesota, St Paul and Queen Mary University of London. He is currently a BBSRC David Phillips Fellow at the University of Newcastle and has previously been a Marie Curie Research Fellow, a Human Frontiers Science Program Fellow and a fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg Zu Berlin. He has researched communication and visual cognition in insects, overconfidence in humans and hearing in frogs. He is also a published author and illustrator and has worked towards engaging the public with research using comics, animation and theatre. He was awarded a public engagement fellowship from the Great North Museum, Newcastle and a Wellcome Trust Small Arts Award to support these efforts. He currently researches the ecology and evolution of sensory  and cognitive behaviour and the evolution of overconfidence.

Affiliation: University of Newcastle
Website: www.viveknityananda.com