They’re So Confident, They Must Be Right—Confidence Bias {Bias Day 23}

They're so confident they must be right

What is confidence bias?

Confidence bias is our inclination to believe confident people, confident answers. Brian McLaren demonstrates it this way in his excellent book, Why Don’t They Get It?:

“I am attracted to confidence, even if it is false.
I often prefer the bold lie to the hesitant truth.”

Here are some examples of confidence bias.

We’ve likely been an example ourselves. “I’m sure that we should turn left, not right!” So our partner turns left based solely on our confidence. (I advise my husband to choose the opposite direction from what I feel confident about; my directional skills are lacking.)

We often are victims of confidence bias with people who are bold in their authority, such as pastors, politicians, physicians, etc. The one who comes across as most confident can often garner the most trust, the most votes, the most compliance, regardless of their genuine competency.

Another example is with marketing. Salesmen can use bold words and confidence to sway our opinions. We believe they must be right about their product because they seem so convinced.

Why do we fall into confidence bias?

When we’re in danger, we want relief fast. Our brains listen to the loudest, most confident voices to follow when we’re feeling threatened. It relieves our anxiety. We think they can keep us safe. 

And sometimes they can. But some people are overconfident, regardless of evidence (i.e., the know-it-alls), and other people may be less confident, even when they’re the most skilled.

We’re drawn to the authoritarian who can assure us they can make everything right again. They’re often engaging and entertaining. They know how to appeal to our emotions to pull us in.

We want to trust people. We want to believe the stories we’re told. When other people are confident about their stories, we buy in (the stranger in the parking lot really does need our $20 for gas so they can drive home to their sick child, right?). We don’t want to believe other people could be lying to us, especially if it’s people we already trust.

“We mistake confidence for competence, and we are all vulnerable to the lies of confident people.” 
– Brian McLaren

Why is confidence bias dangerous?

It’s dangerous because it can lure us into making bad choices. The most confident person isn’t necessarily the most qualified. Con artists take advantage of confidence bias by manipulating us with their surety. We’re then more susceptible to giving them our social security number, our nest egg, our trust.

Confidence bias can convince us to trade in truths for lies.

On the flip side, confidence bias can also make us miss out on good decisions. A highly qualified person may give us excellent advice, but if they are quiet and humble, we may overlook their advice altogether.

How can we guard against confidence bias?

We’re all vulnerable to the confidence bias. We want to believe what feels true. But we need to be aware of con artists and narcissists who want to sell us something for their good, not for our good. They can worm their way into our good favor by promising to meet our needs, when they’re truly only meeting their needs.

Pay attention to context. Listen to your expert auto mechanic about your transmission troubles, but you don’t have to take his advice on who to marry, regardless of how confidently he gives it.   

Do your homework. If someone is offering you a deal that seems too good to be true, look into it further before you believe all their claims. We don’t have to hand over our confidence just because someone is bold enough to ask for it.

Be especially wary when you are in a weakened position. That’s when we’re often most vulnerable and prone to let our guards down.

And when you are conned? Be humble enough to admit it, once you realize it. Don’t be embarrassed that you were the victim of a scam; we all fall prey.

The best scams are ones we never realize we’ve fallen for.

And if we are the overconfident one? That’s a different bias actually, but we should remember we don’t know it all. We can be and often are wrong. We have a lot to learn ourselves. Stay honest; stay humble. 

Again from Brian McLaren:

“Display bold confidence, but invite people to question, think, and test. Where you can’t offer certainty, boldly offer clarity. Where you can’t offer clarity, boldly offer honesty.”

How did Jesus handle confidence bias?

When Jesus interacted with others, he knew he had all the answers. He spoke with authority. He was confident.

And his confidence did attract followers.

Yet he didn’t flaunt his inside knowledge with arrogance. He didn’t use his authority to shame others, to trick others, or to disempower others.

He invited conversation. He participated in dialogues. He asked questions, even when he didn’t need to hear the answers himself.

Jesus also encouraged others to question the current authorities. He didn’t want his disciples to blindly follow the most confident keepers of the law, but to seek out truth for themselves, which ultimately was found in him.

He told them to be as innocent as doves but as wise as serpents.

Jesus shared his confidence in those who believed in him. He told them they would have access to his Spirit after he was gone. They would do miracles, they would would be salt and light in the world.

Brian McLaren explains:

“Yes, Jesus was confident, but he was the very opposite of a con artist. You might say he was a humility artist, a vulnerability artist, an anti-con artist.”

Being confident isn’t bad. It’s safe to place our confidence in who Christ is, not just in our beliefs about who Christ is. He is bigger than our beliefs. He is more than we can understand. He can handle our questions and doubts.

He’s proven himself worthy of our confidence. 


Do you find it easy too to believe the more confident person? Share in the comments.

You are on Day 23 of the series: “How to Uncover Hidden Biases.”

Uncover Hidden Biases

Previous: Conspiracy Bias {Bias Day 22}
“6 Things You Need to Know About Conspiracy Theories” 

Next: Normalcy Bias {Bias Day 24}
“Think It’ll Never Happen? Is Your Head in the Sand?”

sharing with Patsy, Jen, Jeanne

8 thoughts on “They’re So Confident, They Must Be Right—Confidence Bias {Bias Day 23}

  1. Anita Ojeda

    Another excellent article, Lisa! I wonder if the confidence bias (and people’s need for following someone with confidence during a crisis) explains what happened in January? This post has given me a new perspective on those who seem inexplicable naive.

  2. Ashley Rowland | HISsparrowBlog

    Your bias articles are so interesting! I didn’t know there was a name for this one either. However, I’ve noticed that there a lot of people who seem confident in every area—experts in everything. I’ve fallen for it several times. Now, though, I have found that I trust these people less, because there have been too many times when the topic strayed into an area that I knew a lot about…AND…they didn’t know what they were talking about. I think I’m much more likely to trust a person now who doesn’t tell me what to think because, of course, they know what they’re talking about and instead can have a dialogue about it.

  3. Heather

    I think this is how a bad theology (Calvinism) took over our formally-wonderful EFCA church. The new pastor is very confident and bold-sounding. And so (my opinion) even if people noticed any red flags in his sermons, they ignored it because he seemed so sure of what he was saying. I think they convinced themselves he must be preaching the truth because he’s so “smart,” even though what he says contradicts what God plainly said in His Word. (Such as when he said “The Bible says God loves people, but it clearly says He doesn’t love ALL people and that He doesn’t love all people equally.” And “the world’ in John 3:16 doesn’t mean all people, it means ‘cosmos.'”) We ended up having to leave that church (our church home of almost 20 years) because no one would listen to our concerns. It’s sad.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Ugh, I’m sorry you had to experience all that, Heather. It’s such a prime example of confidence bias; I’ve seen it again and again in churches as well. I pray that you were able to find a new community that you can love just as much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *