Experimental Economics

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 72–98 | Cite as

Self-confidence and strategic behavior

  • Gary Charness
  • Aldo Rustichini
  • Jeroen van de Ven
Original Paper


We suggest that overconfidence (conscious or unconscious) is motivated in part by strategic considerations, and test this experimentally. We find compelling supporting evidence in the behavior of participants who send and respond to others’ statements of confidence about how well they have scored on an IQ test. In two-player tournaments where the higher score wins, a player is very likely to choose to compete when he knows that his own stated confidence is higher than the other player’s, but rarely when the reverse is true. Consistent with this behavior, stated confidence is inflated by males when deterrence is strategically optimal and is instead deflated (by males and females) when luring (encouraging entry) is strategically optimal. This behavior is consistent with the equilibrium of the corresponding signaling game. Overconfident statements are used in environments that seem familiar, and we present evidence that suggests that this can occur on an unconscious level.


Self-confidence Overconfidence Strategic deterrence Unconscious behavior Self-deception Luring Experiment 

JEL Classification

A12 C91 D03 D82 



We acknowledge helpful comments from three anonymous referees, the Editor (Lise Vesterlund), and from Alex Brown, Juan Carrillo, Peter Cramton, Catherine Eckel, Enrique Fatas, Sanjeev Goyal, Philippe Jehiel, Juanjuan Meng, Markus Möbius, Klaus Schmidt, Lones Smith, Vernon Smith, Joel Sobel, Anton Suvorov, Cheng-Zhong Qin, Daniel Zizzo, and seminar participants at several universities including SITE (Stanford), USC, Toulouse, Peking University, Jinan University, University of Texas A&M, University of Aarhus, Ca’Foscari, Chapman University, University of East Anglia, Cambridge University, Goethe University (Frankfurt), New Economic School (Moscow), University of Maryland, CesIfo, Maastricht University, Tilburg University, Stockholm University, University of Michigan, Pompeu Fabra, Autonoma, University of Southampton, Washington University (St. Louis), and University of Wisconsin.

Supplementary material

10683_2017_9526_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (571 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 570 KB)


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Copyright information

© Economic Science Association 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gary Charness
    • 1
  • Aldo Rustichini
    • 2
  • Jeroen van de Ven
    • 3
  1. 1.University of California at Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA
  2. 2.University of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  3. 3.University of Amsterdam and Tinbergen InstituteAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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