Survey Finds Most Americans Think That They Have Above Average Intelligence

Don't scoff: you're not invulnerable to self-delusion. PR Image Factory/Shutterstock

Robin Andrews 31 Jul 2018, 14:55

A new US-based nationally representative survey has found that 65 percent of respondents (70 percent in men, 60 percent in women) agree with this rather telling statement: “I am more intelligent than the average person.” Hopefully this doesn’t require a rudimentary lesson in statistics to explain why this simply isn’t possible.

Now, this is amusing, but let’s not all pile in on the American public. While this PLOS ONE systematic study is certainly noteworthy, it’s not for the finding that many people overestimate their intellectual capabilities.

Instead, it’s important because similar research conducted in the US half a century earlier found much the same thing. Although the researchers caution about generalizing their findings, it’s a good bet the same pattern can be found in other countries around the world too.

Reams of psychological research notes that we are all fairly prone to overestimating our capabilities, with some people more prone than others. One finding in particular, one that crops up in this latest study, stands out: the least intelligent tend to be the most overconfident.

This doesn’t mean that confidence is necessarily associated with low intelligence, however, as university graduates often (more accurately) describe themselves as more learned. What it does potentially hint at, however, is that the Dunning-Kruger Effect (DKE) is alive and well in the general population.

This effect, described by social psychologists Justin Kruger and David Dunning in 1999, is all about so-called meta-ignorance: an unawareness of how ignorant an individual, pondering on their own capabilities, thinks they are.

This not only means that those suffering from a more acute version of DKE are not only terrible at something they are certain that they are competent at, but that they are blinded to the mere fact that they are terrible. This can have dangerous effects: the most confident anti-vaxxers, for example, tend to be those with the least amount of knowledge on the subject.

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