When Dating, Confidence Will Get You Far (But Only So Far)

Studies with implications for online profiles and nights out.

Posted Jul 14, 2015

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There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and it's one that relationship-seekers should tread carefully. In fact, a new study appearing in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin examines how a touch (just a touch) of overconfidence can be beneficial to finding a romantic partner.

In the study, 196 participants were asked to write an online dating profile. Profiles were then rated by members of the opposite sex on the basis of:

  1. How confident the author of the profile appeared to be.
  2. The perceived desirability of the dating profile.

The researchers found that the more confident the author was rated, the more likely members of the opposite sex were to perceive the author as a desirable dating candidate.

But there was a catch: The study also asked the authors of the profiles to fill out a survey gauging their own level of “overconfidence.” To measure overconfidence, participants were asked to report their level of familiarity with real and made-up facts. For example, participants were asked how familiar they were with real terms such as “The Manhattan Project” as well as fake terms such as “ultra-lipids.” The more that people reported high levels of familiarity with made-up facts, the higher their degree of overconfidence was considered to be. And the researchers found that participants who scored higher on the overconfidence survey also wrote more confident (and, therefore, more desirable) dating profiles.

Does this mean that overconfidence is the key (or at least one key) to dating success?

University of Queensland psychologist Sean Murphy, who conducted this research, cautioned against this interpretation. “I suppose the key thing to remember is that it's not that there's anything special about overconfidence per say,” he said. “Rather, it's confidence which is a good thing, and overconfidence can sometimes piggyback on that.”

There is, of course, a potential downside to overconfidence: appearing arrogant. In fact, Murphy’s research shows that although overconfidence can benefit a relationship-seeker, perceived desirability drops if the individual is perceived as arrogant.

“It's really confidence that is (very) good and arrogance that is (a little) bad, and overconfidence causes both,” Murphy said. “In terms of disentangling overconfidence from arrogance, overconfidence is having an overly positive perception of yourself, but I think of arrogance as more interpersonal: You can have an accurate, if positive, self-perception and still be arrogant, depending on your attitude.”

The study reveals another way in which overconfidence can benefit relationship-seekers—by “scaring off” potential competition. In another one of their studies, the research team found that people expressed less interest in pursuing a romantic partner when that person was in close proximity to an overconfident mate competitor. Furthermore, overconfident daters were more likely to compete for romantic partners regardless of the level of competition in the dating landscape.   

“I think if there's a time to be overconfident, it's when trying to attract attention in a competitive environment, like a bar, or perhaps an online dating space,” Murphy said. “Once you've got someone's attention, perhaps that's the time to tone it down and ensure you're not projecting arrogance.”

Sage advice for all relationship-seekers.

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Murphy, S. C., von Hippel, W., Dubbs, S. L., Angilletta Jr, M. J., Wilson, R. S., Trivers, R., & Barlow, F. K. (2015). The Role of Overconfidence in Romantic Desirability and Competition.

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