Although Don Quixote was pummeled by windmills throughout his fictional quest, new research from the University of Edinburgh and the University of California, San Diego put his delusions of grandeur in a more favorable light.  A newly published study in Nature reveals that overconfidence can sometimes yield winning strategies.

The researchers used a mathematical model that compared overconfident strategies with underconfident ones and simulated overconfidence over generations, according to a University of Edinburgh press release. The model found that, evolutionarily speaking, natural selection has a bias toward overconfident people and strategies. Although the researchers cited certain moments in recent history when overconfidence led to bad outcomes – for example, the 2008 financial crash and the 2003 Iraq war – they found that overconfidence often results in positive outcomes, from the world of sports to the world of business.

“The model shows that overconfidence can plausibly evolve in a wide range of environments, as well as the situations in which it will fail,” said author Dominic Johnson. “The question now is how to channel human overconfidence so we can exploit its benefits while avoiding occasional disasters.”

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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