The Ohio State University at Lima

Research: Being ready in one area can unknowingly boost confidence in other areas

Patrick Carroll, associate professor of psychology

Humans make thousands of decisions every day, with varying degrees of longterm consequence–from what kind of ice cream we want on a hot day to what career we will commit to. Regardless of magnitude, most of us invest very little effort in thinking about how we came to a decision and why we are feeling confident about it.

New research shows perhaps we should be thinking a little harder about how we get to a decision.

Patrick Carroll, associate professor of psychology, studies the importance of confidence and preparedness in shaping one's self-views, goals, and attitudes.

His most recent work looks at how being prepared for one aspect of your life can influence confidence in wholly unrelated areas.

“The findings suggest people should think more closely about how they arrive at important decisions in their lives. We sometimes feel like we’re leaning in one direction on a decision and then something changes and we feel more convinced about the choice,” Carroll said. “It is worth considering what caused that shift. Your newfound confidence may be coming from somewhere you aren’t aware of.”

His past research has shown how feelings of preparedness and confidence in a given area of life influence self-views and judgments within that same area of life, e.g., career goals. By contrast, the three studies conducted in this newer research showed that preparedness in one area (career) could transfer to an entirely different area, e.g., political attitudes, regardless of preparedness in the second area.

For example, you may have been leaning slightly toward support of an issue in a local election when you started preparing for a job interview. Once you’re prepared for the interview and are feeling confident, you may find that you’re suddenly sure about your support for the political issue – not realizing that the confidence is actually coming from your preparations for the job interview.

“This work is important in that it suggests that the confidence evoked by preparedness in one area may be misattributed to thoughts supporting your attitude in a completely unrelated area,” Carroll said. “Thus, feeling prepared and confident about getting a job is great but, on the other hand, that confidence may become misplaced into other parts of your life for which you are not be nearly as prepared.”

Carroll worked with a former student on the second of the three studies. Jed Ketcham (BS 2015) looked at preparedness and self-validation for his undergraduate research project he presented at both the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum in Columbus and the Undergraduate Research Forum in Lima. Ketcham is also a co-author on the most recent study.

“Jed was absolutely crucial to the publication of this article,” Carroll said. “As a recent undergraduate, his role as a co-author on this paper within a major social psychological outlet distinguishes him from other recent undergraduates who only have strong GPAs and even GREs should he ever decide to apply to graduate school.”

Undergraduate research gives students a chance to develop skills outside the traditional classroom. Even those not planning a career in research can up their games in structured thought, interpersonal skills and planning.

“Among other things, researchers are forced to review the prior literature and identify a clear, testable hypotheses that somehow extends what has already been done–answering the unanswered questions,” Carroll said. “Researchers must manage completely unexpected problems and issues that may come up with either the equipment, participants, the findings–missing data, skewed data that violates important statistical assumptions, or some combination of all three. Of course, as a consequence, I think researchers become much better at managing and solving unstructured problems than they would have been otherwise.”

Carroll and his research partners will continue to study the link between preparedness and confidence in different situations, including whether the same effects emerge if people are helping others prepare rather than preparing themselves, if they are not prepared but someone working on their behalf is, or if the person is purposefully preparing to be unprepared.

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Co-authors of Carroll’s most recent study are Richard Petty, professor of psychology at Ohio State; Jed Ketcham; and Pablo Briñol, professor of psychology at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Spain.

Read “Feeling prepared increases confidence in any accessible thoughts affecting evaluation unrelated to the original domain of preparation” online at the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.