The illusion of courage in self-predictions: Mispredicting one's own behavior in embarrassing situations


  • Changes were made to the article on 10 December 2010 after first publication online on 2 July 2010. Figure 1 has been amended from the version initially published – the labels on the left-hand side of the image were originally labeled incorrectly.


People exhibit an “illusion of courage” when predicting their own behavior in embarrassing situations. In three experiments, participants overestimated their own willingness to engage in embarrassing public performances in exchange for money when those performances were psychologically distant: Hypothetical or in the relatively distant future. This illusion of courage occurs partly because of cold/hot empathy gaps. That is, people in a relatively “cold” unemotional state underestimate the influence on their own preferences and behaviors of being in a relative “hot” emotional state such as social anxiety evoked by an embarrassing situation. Consistent with this cold/hot empathy gap explanation, putting people “in touch” with negative emotional states by arousing fear (Experiments 1 and 2) and anger (Experiment 2) decreased people's willingness to engage in psychologically distant embarrassing public performances. Conversely, putting people “out of touch” with social anxiety through aerobic exercise, which reduces state anxiety and increases confidence, increased people's willingness to engage in psychologically distance embarrassing public performances (Experiment 3). Implications for self-predictions, self-evaluation, and affective forecasting are discussed. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.