The study, scheduled to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, sheds light on why incompetent people are so often promoted over their more competent peers.
Study co-authors Cameron Anderson, Don Moore and Jessica A. Kennedy of the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business, and Sebastien Brion of the University of Navarra in Spain, said 94 percent of college professors think they do above average work -- which is nearly impossible statistically.
"Our studies found that overconfidence helped people attain social status," Anderson said in a statement. "People who believed they were better than others, even when they weren't, were given a higher place in the social ladder. And the motive to attain higher social status thus spurred overconfidence."
In a work environment, higher status individuals tend to be more admired and listened to, and have more sway over the group's discussions and decisions, Anderson said.
These "alphas" of the group have more clout and prestige than others and the study suggests falsely believing one is better than others has profound social benefits for the individual, Anderson said.
"In organizations, people are very easily swayed by others' confidence even when that confidence is unjustified," Anderson said. "Displays of confidence are given an inordinate amount of weight."