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Why people think they can land an airplane

After watching a short video of a landing approach, people become more and more convinced that they can land an airplane themselves.

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Why people think they can land an airplane

After watching a short video of a landing approach, people become more and more convinced that they can land an airplane themselves. This is the result of a psychological experiment by New Zealand researchers. The researchers cannot say exactly why the mere viewing of a four-minute video, which from the point of view of a pilot is completely useless for learning to fly, leads to such overconfidence. The little film may make it easier for people to see themselves in the role of a pilot, which then leads to an overestimation of their own abilities, they write in the British Royal Society's specialist magazine "Open Science".

Overconfidence is not necessarily a bad thing, according to the researchers led by Maryanne Garry from the University of Waikato (New Zealand). A positive self-image, for example, can lead people to see the possible advantages rather than disadvantages of an action and then to pursue it more actively.

In some people, overconfidence is deeply rooted in their personality. The so-called Dunning-Kruger effect has been known for a long time. He describes how people overestimate their knowledge and abilities, especially when they know little about something. They are simply not able to look realistically at themselves and their abilities.

The results of surveys have shown that people can actually be remarkably wrong when it comes to assessing their own abilities - and their limitations - the researchers continue. Men are particularly susceptible to this. In one survey, more men than women believed they could defeat any animal in a fight, including bears, eagles and king cobras, whose bites are usually fatal to humans.

According to studies, images and videos can strengthen belief in one's own abilities, the scientists continue. For example, students felt they understood climate change better after reading text about it that was combined with an image—even if the image didn't contain any information.

Garry's team has now examined this effect in more detail. They asked a total of almost 800 test persons to imagine suddenly being the only person on board a small aircraft who can land the plane because the pilot had failed due to an emergency.

Half of the test persons then got to see a video from the cockpit, which was recorded from the perspective of a pilot during landing. It had no sound and the view of the control instruments was largely obscured. An experienced pilot describes the video as "100 percent worthless" for learning a landing maneuver.

All subjects were then asked a series of questions, including "How confident are you that you can land the plane without dying?" and "How confident are you that you can land the plane as well as a pilot?". The subjects were able to rate their assessment on a scale from "0 - not at all confident" to "100 - totally confident".

"The task that is asked of people is almost impossible if they are not properly trained," study leader Maryanne Garry explains the setting of the experiment. Any classification that is above 0 on the scale is basically like overconfidence - and many test subjects succumbed to it. "In fact, both those in the group who saw the short, unhelpful video and those who didn't were overly confident on average," reports Garry.

But what the researchers were most interested in was the effect of the video. And it turned out that this made the overconfidence even worse. The researchers calculated that the already misplaced confidence in the group of video viewers was around 9 percent higher. This effect size is in the range that has also been shown in similar studies.

"The fact is, people are exposed to displays of skillful behavior quite frequently," says Garry. "We think that a shift of 9 percent after watching a single short presentation is worrying." It is quite possible that the overconfidence increases with repeated viewing.

The video may stimulate the viewer's imagination, making it easier for them to see themselves in the role of a pilot - along with his skills, the scientists speculate. However, this connection has not been proven. So far it has also been unclear which aspects of the video inflated the self-confidence of the viewer. The landing shown was smooth. A problematic maneuver might have led viewers to a different self-assessment. In addition, there were no specific instructions in the video - if the pilot had explained all the necessary actions of the complex maneuver step by step, this could also result in a more realistic assessment.

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