What Type of Arrogance Do You Exhibit?

Dr. Nelson Cowan is the Curators Distinguished Professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri College of Arts and Science. Recently, Dr. Cowan and his team of psychology researchers looked into how to classify degrees of arrogance.

What is the difference between arrogance and confidence?

There may not be a sharp boundary, but confidence is a reasonable belief that one can act effectively which may be necessary to use one’s abilities well. Individual arrogance might carry that confidence to an unrealistic level and lead a person to make too many mistakes by being unrealistic. Comparative arrogance could lead one to over-value their own contributions and ignore or overlook the important contributions of others, which is bad for any joint endeavor. Antagonistic arrogance can lead one to hurt and humiliate others in order to feel worthy at their expense. In sum, confidence could be productive for everyone, but arrogance is generally not helpful for some or all people who display it or encounter it.

How does the degree of arrogance affect our daily life?

Some people will be affected severely by the arrogance demonstrated by their boss at work, their friends or partner, or their political leaders. Other people may be affected more mildly. Arrogance in a person probably tends to make that person ineffective and unhappy because it damages relationships, and arrogance certainly tends to have negative effects on the people with whom an arrogant person interacts.

Does the level of arrogance impact a person’s success? If so, how?

Some arrogance may be mistaken for confidence, which can help those people be selected for a leadership role.  However, typically, a high level of arrogance will not be helpful in carrying out that leadership role, as it will lead to interpersonal friction and non-cooperation.

You say there are three different levels of arrogance ­– individual arrogance, comparative arrogance and antagonistic arrogance. Which one is the worst and why?

Each level of arrogance may follow from the lower levels. For example, you have to be unaware of your limits to resist knowing about those limits, and only some people resist. Only some of those convert this lack of knowledge about their limits to an unwarranted feeling of superiority. Therefore, in Figure 1, antagonistic arrogance is the worst, but it is the least prevalent.

How are the levels of arrogance measured?

Several groups have developed questionnaires that ask a person about him- or herself, and ask colleagues, friends, and employers or employees about them, as well. An example is the Workplace Arrogance Scale developed by R. Johnson and colleagues in 2010, cited in the paper.

What factors affect our level of arrogance?

We believe that there are both cognitive and emotional factors. Cognitively, it takes some level of sophistication to realize that one’s knowledge is flawed and incomplete. Emotionally, it can be painful to learn this, or to learn that other people are at least as good as you.

This research provides a way for people to understand which level of arrogance they exhibit. Can knowing this help improve our quality of life? If yes, then how? 

We don’t know, but we believe that if everyone remembers that he or she may be wrong, then work and communication will go more smoothly at every level. People will be more forgiving of themselves, yet more able to change their minds when the evidence warrants that. Interpersonal conversations should go better, because both sides of a conversation will allow that the other person could have some important points. For a similar reason, political discussions between leaders could be more successful as the leaders might listen to each other more carefully and be more aware of the views of the others.

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