Overconfident people are more exposed to “black swan” events: a case study of avalanche risk

  • Nicolao Bonini
  • Stefania Pighin
  • Enrico RettoreEmail author
  • Lucia Savadori
  • Federico Schena
  • Sara Tonini
  • Paolo Tosi


Overconfidence is a well-established bias in which someone’s subjective confidence in their own judgment is systematically greater than their objective accuracy. There is abundant anecdotal evidence that overconfident people increase their exposure to risk. In this paper, we test whether overconfident backcountry skiers underestimate the probability of incurring a snow avalanche accident. An avalanche accident is a typical “black swan” event as defined by Taleb (The black swan: the impact of the highly improbable, Random House, New York, 2007) because it has a very low probability of occurring but with potentially dramatic consequences. To consider black swan events when studying overconfidence is particularly important, in light of previous findings on the role of overconfidence when feedbacks on tasks previously performed are inconclusive and infrequent. We run our test by measuring individual overconfidence using standard tools from the literature and then use a random effect logit model to measure its effect on the probability to take the ski route. We show that (1) overconfidence is widespread in our sample; (2) practitioners who are more prone to overestimate their knowledge are also more likely to take risks associated with a ski trip under the threat of avalanche danger, a result robust to a set of specification tests we perform. This suggests that overconfident people are more exposed to black swan events, by taking a risky decision that can bring about fatal consequences.

JEL Classification

D12 D83 I12 


Cognitive bias Risky decision Backcountry skiing Measurement errors Logit model 



The authors thank Accademia della Montagna del Trentino for financial support; Ulrike Malmendier, Derek Stemple and William J. Weber for critical reading of the manuscript; Andrea Ichino for suggesting the robustness checks on our results; seminar participants at IZA, in particular Arnaud Chevalier, for their helpful comments. The usual disclaimer applies.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicolao Bonini
    • 1
  • Stefania Pighin
    • 1
    • 2
  • Enrico Rettore
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
    Email author
  • Lucia Savadori
    • 1
  • Federico Schena
    • 6
  • Sara Tonini
    • 5
    • 7
  • Paolo Tosi
    • 8
  1. 1.Department of Economics and ManagementUniversity of TrentoTrentoItaly
  2. 2.Research Center for Sport, Mountain, and HealthUniversity of VeronaRoveretoItaly
  3. 3.Department of Sociology and Social ResearchUniversity of TrentoTrentoItaly
  4. 4.FBK-IRVAPPTrentoItaly
  5. 5.IZABonnGermany
  6. 6.Department of Neurological and Movement SciencesUniversity of VeronaVeronaItaly
  7. 7.Southern Africa Labour and Development Research UnitUniversity of Cape TownRondebosch, Cape TownSouth Africa
  8. 8.Department of PhysicsUniversity of TrentoTrentoItaly

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