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Politeness Could Be Breeding Overconfidence: Study

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You know those people -- yeah, those people -- who think they're the funniest humans on Earth, who believe they charm, bewitch, delight and allure with their personalities and humor?

Well, it may be our fault that they're annoying and boring us to tears.

Not our fault literally, but the fault of our society as a whole -- specifically, our society's penchant for politeness.

New research from Florida State University suggests that we avoid giving negative feedback or information to people because of social norms, which could thereby breed overconfidence in others. The study will be presented at the convention of the American Psychological Association this month.

"There's definitely no harm in some types of overconfidence, and I am not suggesting that we should stop living in a polite society. The worst that might come from someone believing that they are funnier than, in reality, they are is a bit of embarrassment or wasted effort auditioning for 'America's Got Talent,'" study researcher Joyce Ehrlinger, an assistant psychology professor at the university, said in a statement.

But "overconfident doctors and lawyers might offer their patients or clients poor advice," she added. "There are ways in which overconfidence is dangerous, and it might be important to set aside politeness in the service of helping people avoid the perils of overconfidence."

The research was the result of several experiments. In one, researchers had study participants with opposite views on a particular topic talk to one another about their opinions, each with the purpose of persuading the other person to see his or her side. The researchers found that the persuadee would often just smile or agree vaguely, but that this led to the persuader thinking that he or she was doing a fantastic job at persuading (even when that wasn't the case).

Maybe all those overconfident people should pay more attention to the laughter responses they get from people. Last month, University College London researchers presented a study at the Royal Summer Science Exhibition showing that fake, polite laughs are pretty distinguishable from the real deal, the Daily Mail reported.

"Most of our laughter is posed. We use it as a way of keeping conversation going, as a way of showing our friends we like them or impressing people," study researcher Sophie Scott told the Daily Mail. "They know it's not genuine, but I don't know if they always mind. You are appreciating what they are doing and getting a positive affiliation going."

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