Confidence, over confidence bias and tinkering.

At least self-isolation (Crohn’s disease treatment = high risk) means time to catch up on reading and to complete a lot of half-finished projects.

In addition to putting together my own training courses I thought I’d dive back into the world of psychology and start applying those ideas to food safety…… I think there’s a course in there one day.

Skint but productive.

So, for the first time since last July, a return to the book Erronomics and to read Chapter 9. It was interesting but not one I’d happily relate to food safety. In fact, I found it quite an awkward read as it amplifies gender stereotypes. If you read on, try not to take offence.

Essentially, it examines the differences between men and women in terms of risk taking and over-confidence bias and here is an overview of some ideas within the chapter:

Research in Finland correlated speeding offences with stock market trading; the more speeding tickets, the more stock market trading, and the more stock market trading, the less earnings. At the time of the study stock markets average return was 17.9%; but for those who traded the most, the return was 11.4%.

In addition to the link between trading and speeding, a link was found between trading and gender (men traded 45% more than women and single men 67% more than single women… all with diminishing returns.).

Overall, both men and women are poor at trading; stock they sell reliably earns greater value than stocks purchased. However, men tend to be worse; trading records of single men 1.44 percentage points a year worse than women.

The chapter goes on to examine possible reasons for the greater risk taking, such as male overconfidence demonstrated by a tendency to overestimate their abilities (in terms of IQ, exam results, driving ability, attractiveness, etc etc).

Overall, men tend to take risks and tinker more. Whilst this results in poor stock market trading it can produce positive results in other areas. Microsoft employee Laura Beckwith (PhD in computer science) devised a test to fix errors in a spreadsheet document.

The key to succeeding with the task was to use the debugging features of the software. However, only women with high confidence used the software whilst the majority stuck with what they knew (editing the formulas one by one)…….This introduced more bugs into the system than when they started.

The conclusion was perception of risk; when the women did their own cost-benefit analysis many decided that the risk of using the debugging tools, and the time it would take to learn them was not worth the benefit. Men, on the other hand were generally happy to take the risks and tinker with the software features.

A separate study related to getting lost. According to one study by the US Department of Transportation women drivers tend to get lost slightly more often than men (not my words, just quoting from the book!). Evidently boys as young as six have been known to show that most male of traits; refusing to ask for directions. However, as they grow, men tinker, wander off the path and explore. This is probably done with every confidence they’re going the right way (in one of the earliest reports 71% of men said they had a good sense of direction compared to 47% of women).

In cases where men do have a better sense of direction, nurture plays a greater role than nature. Both genders are born with same abilities, but as they grow boys are (generally) allowed to roam further from home and in doing so build more detailed maps in their minds.

As I mentioned at the beginning; probably not a chapter that should be related to food safety. However, forgetting gender bias for the moment; it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where a manager (whatever their gender) with low confidence, working with an over-confident chef could have disastrous consequences.

My aim is to collate all of these blogs and mould them into an online course on how to manage food safety. It's quite a challenge!

In the meanwhile, if you are interested in food safety training, click on the picture below which will take you to my Level Three food safety course on Udemy.

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