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Birkbeck awarded prestigious grant to investigate the social life of confidence

The grant of £430,020 has been awarded by the Leverhulme Trust and will fund a four-year research project.

A man sits at a desk in a study smiling to the camera. On the man's desk are computers which show scanned images of brains on their screens.
Dr Daniel Yon

A new research project is set to be conducted at Birkbeck, exploring how the confidence we express in public influences our private feelings of uncertainty. The four-year project will be spearheaded by Dr Daniel Yon and his Uncertainty Lab in Birkbeck’s School of Psychological Sciences, in collaboration with researchers from the Institute of Philosophy, University of Oxford, and Yale University. 

Dr Yon and his team will be studying how public communication with others can influence a person’s private feelings of uncertainty, how this happens in the brain, and how these processes can go wrong.  

Dr Yon commented: “Psychologists already know that the confidence we express in social situations can become distorted, as we change the confidence we express to persuade and influence others. But work in my lab has begun to suggest that changes in the confidence we communicate could also change the confidence that we privately feel. I’m really thrilled to have received this funding from the Leverhulme Trust, which will allow us to investigate over the next four years how these confidence biases emerge in the brain, how they can be transmitted from one person to another, and how these processes may become atypical in people who are prone to strange or delusional beliefs.” 

By exploring the psychological processes behind confidence expression and its transmission, the project may provide insights into why different groups exhibit varying levels of confidence. Dr Yon highlighted the broader implications of the research, noting, “We don’t know what we’ll find yet – but if we’re right, our new theory could potentially explain why different societal groups differ in the confidence they feel. For instance, politicians might express more confidence than scientists, or men might express more confidence than women. The psychological processes we are studying could help us to explain where these cultures of confidence come from, and why they persist, as we try to share our minds with one another.” 

The project is due to begin at the start of 2025 and will run for four years.  

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