I learnt somewhere (forgot where, but most likely in one of my university psychology courses) that people honestly think of themselves as better than others in one aspect, and that is intelligence. You may be modest about your appearance, your charm, your industriousness, but many many people consistently think they’re cleverer than the “average person”. Research has shown that people will say, for instance, that they won’t be fooled by scams, but they rate that the average person is likely to fall for them. They say advertisements won’t persuade them to do things they don’t want to do, but that the “average person” is susceptible to persuasive advertisements (by the way, we are all more susceptible to ads than we think).
So it’s really funny how we think we’re cleverer than average. This is one way we boost our self-esteem. Another way is through the Fundamental Attribution Error, where we credit our successes to our own ability and our failures to circumstances. For instance, if you get full marks for your exams, you’d usually be like “yeah, I studied really hard for this one; it pays off!” If you fail your exam, you’d be like “the questions were tricky!” Do they sound familiar? I know they do to me. If I put it this way, doesn’t it sound like we’re pretty inconsistent and conceited people? Well, I wouldn’t deny that, but thinking this way keeps up a healthy self-esteem and makes us happy too. People who are the complete opposite — meaning they say they were just lucky if they succeeded at something, and if they fail they think it means they’re lousy — are very likely to suffer from depression. We have to think of ourselves positively, even unrealistically so, in order to keep up our motivations in life.
We exhibit a lot of other highly conceited biases too. For instance, once we learn that people are similar to us in some ways, we tend to rate them more positively in other areas and also express more liking towards them. Also, we tend to think that people of a category we do not belong in (for instance in terms of race) are all roughly the same, and possess certain stereotypes, yet we acknowledge that our own group or race comprise diverse people who cannot be lumped into one category. Have you ever encountered a situation where you think people of another country all look alike? It turns out that it’s not just you! Eyewitness testimonies have found that eyewitnesses are worse at identifying suspects when they are of a different race. It could be because we know what kind of differences to look out for in our own race (for example, we wouldn’t be preoccupied about skin colour) but aren’t such experts when it comes to another race.
So the next time you have certain ideas about yourself, or other people, you may want to take a step back and consider if your ideas about the “average person” may be inaccurate. Then again, maybe living in such a reality isn’t so bad after all.