You may have noticed this: most people think THEY are smarter, more often correct, more honest, better drivers, et al. than the “average” person. This is called illusory superiority, “a cognitive bias whereby individuals overestimate their own qualities and abilities, relative to others… Other terms include superiority bias, leniency error… and the Lake Wobegon effect (named after Garrison Keillor’s fictional town where ‘all the children are above average’). The phrase ‘illusory superiority’ was first used by Van Yperen and Buunk in 1991.”
But why is it that on a scale of one to 10, you probably think you’re a seven?
According to “David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell who has studied the effect for decades:
“We realize the external traits and circumstances that guide other people’s actions, ‘but when it comes to us, we think it’s all about our intention, our effort, our desire, our agency — we think we sort of float above all these kinds of constraints'”
From here: “A closely related bias is the Dunning-Kruger effect, where incompetent or unskilled people fail to recognise their own incompetency (of course, I’m sure you’re not incompetent or unskilled, so this one doesn’t apply to you…)”
It may be best summarized in this one-minute video by John Cleese about being stupid.
Dunning-Kruger has another aspect, however. “Conversely, highly skilled individuals tend to underestimate their relative competence, erroneously assuming that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.” This, actually, was the phenomenon I am most fascinated by.
I shared an office with this library colleague when I first started working as a librarian, and when I had a question I could not figure out, I’d ask for help. She would say, a lot, “Oh, that’s EASY.” It drove me crazy on two levels: 1) obviously, it wasn’t EASY for me, because I needed help, and 2) she was constantly diminishing her own expertise in this manner.
So, some of us aren’t as smart as we think we are. Others of us are actually smarter, but pshaw it off.
TED talk – Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong