Fortune Favours the Bold: An Agent-Based Model Reveals Adaptive Advantages of Overconfidence in War

Dominic D. P. Johnson, Nils B. Weidmann, Lars-Erik Cederman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Overconfidence has long been considered a cause of war. Like other decision-making biases, overconfidence seems detrimental because it increases the frequency and costs of fighting. However, evolutionary biologists have proposed that overconfidence may also confer adaptive advantages: increasing ambition, resolve, persistence, bluffing opponents, and winning net payoffs from risky opportunities despite occasional failures. We report the results of an agent-based model of inter-state conflict, which allows us to evaluate the performance of different strategies in competition with each other. Counter-intuitively, we find that overconfident states predominate in the population at the expense of unbiased or underconfident states. Overconfident states win because: (1) they are more likely to accumulate resources from frequent attempts at conquest; (2) they are more likely to gang up on weak states, forcing victims to split their defences; and (3) when the decision threshold for attacking requires an overwhelming asymmetry of power, unbiased and underconfident states shirk many conflicts they are actually likely to win. These `` adaptive advantages'' of overconfidence may, via selection effects, learning, or evolved psychology, have spread and become entrenched among modern states, organizations and decision-makers. This would help to explain the frequent association of overconfidence and war, even if it no longer brings benefits today.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere20851
Pages (from-to)-
Number of pages8
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume6
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2011

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • COMPETITION
  • EVOLUTION
  • BIASES

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