Lack social confidence? All is not lost

Joshua Ackerman

Joshua Ackerman

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Feeling confident in social situations isn’t just something that some people are born with. Rather, it’s something that people can learn, researchers say.

Many people who lack a natural ability or the relevant successes to feel confident in various social contexts often turn to self-help books, videos and seminars.

While most studies have focused on how individuals identify their own confidence, little is known about others’ perceptions of individuals’ social confidence. This confidence significantly impacts evaluations and relationship-related outcomes in social situations, says Joshua Ackerman, associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.

People are able to perceive others’ self-confidence, but also hold that quality in high regard, says Ackerman, who also is a faculty associate at the U-M Institute for Social Research.

Ackerman and colleagues investigated whether men’s social confidence in chatting with women can be improved through a video tutorial, thus becoming more romantically desirable.

In three studies, 235 women chatted with men who had received or not received a tutorial on how to handle speed-dating chats. The tutorial-trained men felt more confident going into the chats, and the women perceived those men to be higher in confidence, status and dominance, the study showed.

"Social confidence is trainable … and can impact the outcomes of social interactions,” said lead author Norman Li, associate professor of psychology at Singapore Management University.

But the research also revealed a potential downside of training for social situations.

Being told that a partner had undergone training to effectively talk to and attract women in these encounters led to lowered assessments of the men’s romantic desirability and likelihood of being chosen as a long-term (but not short-term) partner through lowered perceived trustworthiness, the study indicated.

In addition, greater social confidence not only increased romantic desirability and more favorable outcomes, but was associated with greater perceptions of status and dominance. However, these two traits did not lead to greater perceived romantic desirability or more favorable treatment.

Ackerman says this is consistent with the hypothesis that women may possess evolved romantic preferences for social confidence per se, above and beyond specific qualities such as the social status and dominance suggested by this confidence.

The study’s authors also included Jose Yong, research fellow at Nanyang Technological University; Ming-Hong Tsai, associate professor at Singapore Management University; Mark Lai, assistant professor at University of Southern California; and Amy Lim, lecturer at Murdoch University Singapore.

The Journal of Personality published the findings.


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