almost all of us are a lot better than average -- 8/09/17

Today's selection -- from Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright. We almost all think we are a lot better than average, that our successes are the result of our personal qualities, and that our failures are the result of external circumstances:

"In 1980 the psychologist Anthony Green­wald invented the term beneffectance to describe the way people natu­rally present themselves to the world -- as beneficial and effective. Lots of experiments since then have shown that people not only put out this kind of publicity about themselves but actually believe it.

"And they could be right! There are beneficial and effective people in the world. But one thing that can't be the case is that most people are above average in these regards. Yet study after study has shown that most people do think they're above average along various di­mensions, ranging from athletic ability to social skills. And this sort of self-appraisal can firmly resist evidence. One study of fifty people found that on average they rated their driving skill toward the 'expert' end of the spectrum -- which would be less notable were it not for the fact that all fifty had recently been in car accidents, and two-thirds of them had been deemed responsible for the accidents by police.

"If there is anything we're more impressed by than our competence, it's our moral fiber. One finding among many that drive this point home is that the average person believes he or she does more good things and fewer bad things than the average person. ...

"And we don't just consider ourselves above average compared to a vaguely envisioned population of human beings at large. When put on a very small team, we tend to convince ourselves that we're more valuable than the average team member. In one study, academics who had worked on jointly authored research papers were asked what frac­tion of the team's output their own work accounted for. On the average four-person team, the sum of the claimed credit was 140 percent. The key word in the previous sentence is credit. When team efforts fail, our perceived contribution to the outcome shrinks.

"People are often aware of these forms of self-delusion -- at least, they're aware of them in other people. In one American study, experi­menters described eight different kinds of biases that are common in people, such as 'they tend to take credit for success but deny respon­sibility for failure; they see their successes as the result of personal qualities, like drive or ability, but their failures as the result of external factors, like unreasonable work requirements or inadequate instruc­tion.' In the case of all eight biases, the average person said the average American is more susceptible than they themselves were. [As evolutionary psychologist Robert] Kurzban has summarized this finding, 'We think we're better than average at not being biased in thinking that we're better than average.' "



Robert Wright


Why Buddhism Is True


Simon & Schuster, Inc.


Copyright © 2017 by Robert Wright


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