Are You Above Or Below Average?

In the field of social psychology, illusory superiority is a cognitive bias whereby a person overestimates his or her own qualities and abilities, in relation to the same qualities and abilities of other persons. As such, illusory superiority is one of many positive illusions, relating to the self, that is evident in the study of intelligence, the effective performance of tasks and tests, and the possession of desirable personal characteristics and personality traits.

The term illusory superiority first was used by the researchers Van Yperen and Buunk, in 1991, which also is known as the Above-average effect, the superiority bias, the leniency error, the sense of relative superiority, the primus inter pares effect, and the Lake Wobegon effect.

The nature of the comparison target is one of the most fundamental moderating factors of the effect of illusory superiority, and there are two main issues relating to the comparison target that needs to be considered.

First, research into illusory superiority is distinct in terms of the comparison target because an individual compares themselves with a hypothetical average peer rather than a tangible person. Alicke et al. (1995) found that the effect of illusory superiority was still present but was significantly reduced when participants compared themselves with real people (also participants in the experiment, who were seated in the same room), as opposed to when participants compared themselves with an average peer. This suggests that research into illusory superiority may itself be biasing results and finding a greater effect than would actually occur in real life.

Further research into the differences between comparison targets involved four conditions where participants were at varying proximity to an interview with the comparison target: watching live in the same room; watching on tape; reading a written transcript, or making self-other comparisons with an average peer. It was found that when the participant was further removed from the interview situation (in the tape observation and transcript conditions) the effect of illusory superiority was found to be greater. Researchers asserted that these findings suggest that the effect of illusory superiority is reduced by two main factors individuation of the target and live contact with the target.

Second, Alicke et al.'s (1995) studies investigated whether the negative connotations to the word "average" may have an effect on the extent to which individuals exhibit illusory superiority, namely whether the use of the word "average" increases illusory superiority. Participants were asked to evaluate themselves, the average peer and a person whom they had sat next to in the previous experiment, on various dimensions. It was found that they placed themselves highest, followed by the real person, followed by the average peer, however, the average peer was consistently placed above the mean point on the scale, suggesting that the word "average" did not have a negative effect on the participant's view of the average peer.

Thanks to Wikipedia: Illusory superiority

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