Research published in the Journal of Personality suggests that self-confidence is important for men’s courting success and — with a simple speed-dating tutorial — this confidence can be trained.
The psychology literature suggests that social confidence is an admired trait that offers its wearers a host of benefits, such as gaining friendships, getting promotions at work, and making more sales. While this topic has been extensively studied, study authors Norman P. Li and colleagues noted a gap in the research. The researchers explain that most of the previous studies have focused on a person’s perceptions of their own competence — and not how their self-confidence is perceived by others.
“I often noticed that confidence is something that people say is highly desirable, and it also struck me that many of the techniques or strategies that people suggest or teach for handling tough social situations—whether in romance, sales, work, or just everyday stuff—seem to involve improving a person’s confidence in two ways: how confident you yourself feel, and how confident others perceive you to be,” explained Li, an associate professor at Singapore Management University.
“Although both are closely related, there has been little to no formal research on how other people’s perceptions matter. Yet, in social situations, that seems to be extremely important.”
In a series of three studies, Li and team set out to explore the role of self-confidence in the high-stakes social situation of speed-dating. In addition, they were interested to see whether this type of self-confidence can be trained.
In an initial study, 68 male undergraduate students were assigned to either watch a roughly 3-hour speed-dating tutorial, a 3-hour general conversation tutorial, or neither. A week later, all the men partook in a speed-dating session where they conversed with up to six female undergraduate students for four minutes each. The women, who were also study participants, were asked to evaluate the men across several measures.
The researchers found that men who had watched the speed-dating tutorial were rated higher in social confidence, dominance, status, and romantic desirability, compared to the men who saw no tutorial. Interestingly, the women’s perceptions of the men’s social confidence mediated the effects of the speed-dating tutorial on romantic desirability — but ratings of men’s dominance and status did not. This suggests that social confidence is important for men’s desirability to women, above and beyond the traits of status and dominance.
A second study replicated these effects using a within-subjects design. This time, 60 male undergraduates were rated by the same three female undergraduates, again during 4-minute speed dating sessions.
“Coming across as confident in a social situation is highly desirable, and you don’t have to be a natural. Indeed, many social situations can seem intimidating because we are being evaluated by others and have a lot on the line, and we may be unfamiliar with the setting,” Li told PsyPost.
“We can improve confidence and the likelihood of a favorable evaluation by simply gaining some familiarity and training and viewing the situation as not so intimidating.”
A final study was driven by a new question — if such tutorials are so effective, then why isn’t everyone watching them? The researchers proposed that it might be because partaking in such training is perceived as disingenuous. “For instance,” Li and colleagues say, “if other people somehow knew that an individual had undergone training to learn how best to handle an evaluative social interaction, this may undermine confidence perceptions and lead to negative evaluations of that person – in particular, lowered perceived trustworthiness.”
The researchers recruited two groups of men — one group who had recently undergone a dating-skills training, and one group who had not. The men then partook in a speed-dating session with 46 female undergraduate students. Before meeting each partner, the women were covertly told that their male partner had either undergone a dating-skills training or had not. Importantly, the men were randomly assigned to be presented as either having undergone training or not, regardless of whether or not they had actually taken the training course.
Interestingly, the women rated the men who they believed had undergone dating training higher in social confidence, but lower in trustworthiness and romantic desirability. The women were also less likely to choose the men who they believed had undergone training as potential long-term partners.
“Thus,” the researchers infer, “a drawback and potential reason why more men (at least those men interested in long-term relationships) don’t seek out tutorials or training to boost their confidence in social situations may be that others, if they find out, may view them as disingenuous and less, rather than more, desirable.” It could be that women may see these trainings as deceptive attempts to improve “surface impressions” rather than actually improve traits.
“Thus far, we have only looked at women evaluating men in a mating context. More research is needed to see if men’s perceptions of female confidence is sexy, and to examine others’ perceptions of confidence in other social domains such as the workplace,” Li said.
“We believe getting familiar with a certain context and viewing it in a nonthreatening way can lead to feeling and coming across as confident in that context, but more studies are needed to verify that.”
Li added: “There is an evolutionary logic behind why we pay attention to confidence and why it makes an effective impression on others. Interested readers can check out the paper: https://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/soss_research/3228/”
The study, “Confidence is sexy and it can be trained: Examining male social confidence in initial, opposite?sex interactions”, was authored by Norman P. Li, Jose C. Yong, Ming?Hong Tsai, Mark H. C. Lai, Amy J. Y. Lim, and Joshua M. Ackerman.