Illusory Superiority

This is actually a field within Social Psychology. In general, I am trying to avoid it these days, but the Wikipedia article on Illusory Superiority is really good. The most interesting thing I learned from the article is that people find any member of a group to be above the median of the group itself. Also: people rate themselves less better compared to specific individuals than to the abstract “average”. I think this has something to do with how we find it easier to empathize with a single individual than with a group—even a group of two. (Sorry that I don’t have a reference for this; I heard it on On The Media last week.)

Worse Than Average Effect

There is another effect—the opposite of Illusory Superiority: The Worse Than Average Effect. This is the tendency for people to under-estimate their chances of doing something that they think they have a very low chance of doing. For example, people tend to underestimate how likely they are to find a $20 bill on the ground during the next two weeks.

After writing this article (when I had read about the WTA effect, but did not write about it), I thought, “Yeah, right; that’s not going to happen to me.” It had happened: four years earlier, but I expected it to never happen again. While writing, I estimated my chances of finding a twenty in the next two weeks at about one-half of one percent. That meant that I should find a $20 bill on the ground every four years, so if my estimate was right, I was due.

It turned out that nine days later, I found a $20 bill on the ground. Freaky cool.

0 thoughts on “Illusory Superiority

  1. Hey. I have been a fan of your other website for several years now and I am finding this blog to be quite interesting and informative, as well. Anyway that is not my point or why I wanted to comment.

    What I want to say is that the whole illusory superiority thing reminded me of a book that I read recently that not only do I highly recommend, but also from what I have gathered through following your blogs/website, that it is right up your alley.

    The book is: "Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts" by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. It delves into the way in which we self justify our own questionable acts through oftentimes unintentional memory manipulation. Illusory superiority and the worse than average effect are just one of the many issues examined. There is a lot to this book and it flows nicely. I do hope you check it out and perhaps someday e-mail me about what you thought.

    Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing your insight and thoughts.


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