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Most People Think They’re Above Average

·337 words·2 mins
Psyched for the Weekend

It’s a fascinating mainstay that pops up again and again in psychological research: Most people think they’re above average.

This is statistically impossible. A considerable number of individuals must be either average or below. So looking at this, one has to wonder — what is going on?

Well, this phenomenon has a variety of names. It’s called illusory superiority or above-average effect. Essentially, this is a common cognitive bias in which people overestimate their abilities in relation to other people.

Interestingly, it’s not universal across cultures. For example, illusory superiority is quite common in the United States (where the bulk of the relevant research on the effect has been conducted), but certain studies conducted in East Asian cultures show they tend to work in the opposite direction, underestimating their own abilities in order to get along better with others (basically in cultures with this pattern, most people think they’re below average).

So arguably the better title for this post is “Most (American) People Think They’re Above Average.” But hey.

Whatever the case, it’s a persistent enough research effect that anyone who constructs studies has to account for it in some way, shape, or form. And as I live in the U.S., it’s definitely something I see over and over again.

To be fair, somebody has to be above average (in practically dimension possible basically). So some of those people who think they’re above average are probably right. But not all of them.

And that’s a sobering thought, really. Because statistically, this means that basically anyone who thinks they’re especially good at something could be wrong. (Yikes!) Welp.


Further Reading: Skilled People Doubt Themselves, the Unskilled Are Confident; Why It Can Be Difficult to Trust People, Even When They Believe What They Say; What Is Self-Serving Bias?;

This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called  Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see  this link.


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