In the 10 Dec 2016 issue of the New Scientist there was a series of articles whose titles began super-you. HM is reviewing a select sample of these pieces. This inner braggart piece was written by Tiffany O’Callaghan. She begins the article, “Think you’re saner, smarter and better-looking than average? Well, so does everyone else. Recognizing our delusions is the first step to doing better. She asks, “Ever had the sense that everyone else is an idiot? Have you seen how those jerks drive? As Garrison Keillor tells it, all the children in Lake Wobegon are above average. This is not unique to Lake Wobegon. When it comes to smarts, looks, charisma, and general psychological adjustment, there’s no denying that we’re a cut above the average person in the street.
O’Callaghan notes that viewing ourselves as above average applies across human ages, professions, and cultures, and to capabilities from driving to playing chess. She notes that this does have advantages. “People who are more impressed with themselves tend to make better first impressions, be generally happier and may even be more resilient in the fact of trauma. Anthropologist Robert Trivers of Rutgers University says that high self-estimation might also let us get ahead by deceiving others. He argues that once we’ve tricked ourselves, we don’t have to work so hard to trick others.
Confidence also helps in finding a romantic partner, which also increases the probability of reproduction. Men appear to be worse offenders at overestimating their looks than women. A study by Marcel Yoder and his team at the University of Illinois found that some men seem to suffer from a “frog prince” delusion: They accurately asses other people’s lesser perception of them, while persisting in a more positive perception of themselves.
Problems come when we’re less aware of how others perceive us. Those who are self-confident without being self-aware are likely to be seen as a jerk. Yoder says, “It’s hard to come off as humble or modest when you’re clueless about how other people see you.” Moreover, we can make bad decisions on the basis of an inflated sense of expertise or understanding.
This is particularly dangerous in the political arena. A “bias blind spot”, a belief that our world view is based on objective truth, while every else is a deluded fool can become problematic, especially as the echo chamber of social media exposes us to fewer contrary views (“Bias Blind Spot: Structure, Measurement, and Consequences”, Scopelliti et al, http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2014.2096). It can make opposing parties feel that the other side is too irrational to be reason with says Wenje Yan.
So the question is how can we preserve the goods while avoiding he downsides. There are different strategies and training programs for overcoming our inbuilt biases. Most begin by making people aware of them and how they can affect our decision making. Psychologists have an exercise called perspective taking. Irene Scopelliti says that the amounts to trying to see a dispute from the other person’s point of view. She points out that acting when you’re all riled up—in a state of high emotion—exacerbates the problem by entrenching our bias. She says, “ We know how o make unbiased decisions, but often emotion biases us, or we aren’t willing to put in the effort. Nevertheless she maintains that practice can make us better.