In one of Ilkka Kokkarinen’s last posts before he shut down his blog, he wrote:
In the photocopier somebody else had forgotten his originals, apparently some kind of Psychology 101 course or something like that. By quickly browsing through these overhead transparencies I learned that success tends to increase a person's self esteem, whereas failure tends to decrease it. Try to learn something useful every day, as I always say, like a true renaissance man.
Ilkka is implying that the link between success and self-esteem is so obvious that it’s not even worthy of teaching. However, I think that much can be learned by pondering the matter.
Self-confidence is closely related to self-esteem. Self-esteem is one's overall belief in one’s value as an individual, while self-confidence is being certain and trusting about oneself in addressing certain tasks or all tasks. Success in certain tasks increases one’s task specific self-confidence, while overall success in life increases both general self-confidence as well as self-esteem.
People tend to perceive other people’s self-confidence on a subconscious level, and use that perception to make judgments. Because of the link between self-confidence and success, people assume that the self-confident person has a higher level of skill. And there is indeed a correlation between self-confidence and success, so this sort of stereotyping often works.
It’s also a socially acceptable type of stereotyping. If an employer hires a job applicant because he appears more self-confident than the competition, this is perfectly acceptable. But if he hires a white candidate over a black candidate because whites are more likely to be better at certain mental tasks (for example, the type of mental tasks required to get a high score on the SAT), this is evil racism and the employer can be sued.
The correlation between self-confidence and actual skill is far from perfect. Some fortunate people are adept at appearing self-confident even when they have no justification for being so. And then there are unfortunate people who lack self-confidence even though they are skilled. The people who appear self confident even when they aren’t skilled will do better in life, because they fool people around them into thinking they actually are skilled.
It’s common for women to say they like men who are self-confident. Because self-confidence is a marker for success, what they are really saying is that they like successful men. But it’s a more politically correct way of saying so. A woman who says that she likes men who are rich will be looked at more negatively than one who says she likes men who are self-confident. The female preference for self-confident men is yet another example of her biological programming to seek alpha males.