If you were to describe the American mindset with the name of a television show, what would it be?
Given the current economy, many probably would call it Survivor; others competing in today's job market or for a spot at a quality university may consider it The Amazing Race or Fear Factor.
However, based on the findings of Young-Hoon Kim, a postdoctoral research fellow in the University of Pennsylvania's psychology department, he would probably recommend Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Kim's research suggests there is such a thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to being optimistic and confident. Encouraging overconfidence can lead to disappointment if a situation does not pan out, he argues.
As Kim sees it, the United States is in the midst of a self-esteem/grade-inflation boom -- borne out by his newly released study comparing student self-assessment with performance here and in China.
The study, published by the American Psychological Association, is based on self-assessments administered to 295 U.S. college students and 2,780 Hong Kong high school students. Kim discovered that students with unrealistic self-perceptions performed worse in school, had lower motivation and experienced more depression than those who accurately assessed their academic performance.
"In America, we try to give positive performance feedback even if children are not qualified," hoping they "might be motivated to work harder," Kim explains, noting that his results were consistent with his own observations between American and Asian cultures.
"In Asia, you get negative performance feedback, even if you did well."
If you see your life as a smooth road to achieving your dreams, you're left completely defenseless once your delusions wear off, says Kim. On the other hand, he reasons, people who are realistic about their abilities can mentally prepare themselves for the occasional rough patch.
Though well-intentioned parents and teachers may be indulging children, teens and young adults with praise, it can have negative repercussions. For example, allowing them to move on to the next grade even if they are not academically ready can be a recipe for long-term disaster, he says. According to Kim, that notion also holds true for adults in the workplace.
The truth is that intelligent people deep down want to know the truth and learn from it rather than live a lie, he says.
If your supervisor or boss is full of nothing but good news, "I recommend seeking out a peer or classmate who will shoot straight with you," he says.
Jeff Gordon -- Los Angeles-based founder of InterActive99 (a national online marketing agency) and an education-related blog, www.IWantAnEducation.com  -- was new to Kim and his studies, but found he was in agreement with many of his arguments.
Gordon has done some research of his own, reinforcing many of the findings of Kim's studies, such as that children need to know what they have to fix in order to find more lasting success.
He notes that his research originated with information from the National Center for Educational Statistics, and findings from an article on Reading, Writing and Narcissism, one of many published pieces by Lillian G. Katz, a former president of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
The fact that our children are not able to accept constructive criticism has become an increasingly problematic situation in the United States, says Gordon.
The feel-good classroom environment trend, where educators celebrate everybody's differences rather than challenging individual students to confront their weaknesses, has been particularly disturbing, he adds.
"The crux of our country was based on innovation and daring. If the people who became our nation's great inventors and industrialists hadn't been pushed during their grade-school days, they would not have emerged as builders" of this country.
Donna Flagg's Surviving Dreaded Conversations: How to Talk Through Any Difficult Situation at Workis winning attention for its premise that the truth is the biggest gift you can give someone.
While the book was originally written for managers to provide them with tools to initiate and carry out difficult, face-to-face conversations in the workplace, Flagg points out that her information can also be beneficial to teachers and parents who want to reach overly confident students.
"I have been accused of being brutally honest, but I can tell you that I have also had people come back years later and thank me for it," affirms Flagg.