How Well Do You Know Yourself? Research On Self-Insight

Posted on October 19, 2020

Most of us are familiar, for example, with the better-than-average effect, the finding that most of us rank ourselves above average at everything from driving ability to desirable personality traits (even though of course we can’t all be right). So armed with this kind of knowledge, are we better placed now to view ourselves accurately? And if not, how can we get better at this — and what benefits can we expect? The following studies provide some illuminating answers…

I feel like I’m smarter than other people

The better-than-average effect may be old news, but results from a recent systematic survey of Americans’ beliefs about their own intelligence (the first to be conducted in 50 years) found that about 70% of men and 60% of women agreed with the statement: “I am more intelligent than the average person.” The team was forced to conclude that Americans’ “self-flattering beliefs about intelligence are alive and well several decades after their discovery was first reported.” Other work has found that our over-estimates of our intelligence can be staggeringly huge — around 30 IQ points, on average.

OK, but I at least know the limits of my knowledge

The “Dunning-Kruger effect” relates specifically to the tendency of people who are poor at a task to over-estimate their ability at it. As David Dunning has written: “The scope of people’s ignorance is often invisible to them.” (Although see Gignac and Zajenkowski again, with a paper from this year arguing that the effect is (mostly) a statistical artefact).

This over-confidence can be dangerous both to the individual, and to others. For example, a US study of student pilots found that those who’d scored lower on a pilot knowledge test “grossly overestimated their ability” while higher-scoring students tended in fact to under-estimate theirs.

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Source material from British Psychological Society


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