Beyond Belief 2006 – a highlight

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Been watching Beyond Belief 2006. Funniest moment so far, V.S. Ramachandran recounts the % of people in a survey who considered themselves “above average” in intelligence. Take a guess. Answer below the fold.

98% of people surveyed (representative survey mind you!) considered themselves above average in intelligence.

34 Comments

  1. It’s good to know that I belong to the majority!

  2. Does he give a source for this? I recall another study that put the total at only 75%.

  3. I wonder at the extent to which we delude ourselfs. How many of us think we are more attractive than average?

  4. confidence is the key to success.. it’s a credit that we imagine ourselves to be better than average. 
     
    the nature of man is to struggle against being ordinary. we like to imagine ourselves unique in some way or the other..

  5. I think it may have been in No Two Alike where I read that people diagnosed with clinical depression tend to have a more accurate perception of their own intelligence.

  6. A paradox: 
     
    I often see figures like that. The self-reported score is higher than the actual score. 
     
    Here is a list of examples: 
     
    Height  
    Beauty 
    Intelligence 
    Mate preferences  
    (Example, if you look at the mating patterns of women, and what they say is important for them, you see a difference, they might say money don’t matter but marriage preferences say something else) 
    Absence of prejudice 
    (How many times have I seen white liberals who claim to be egalitarians, but still prefer to live among other whites) 
     
    However, I was talking to the mensa test coordinator of my region, and she told me that the number of people who go to the test and make it is rather high, a bit higher than 50 %. 
     
    On the other hand, I have seen reports where 25 % of the population is considering themselves in the top 1 % of intelligence. 
     
    We run into a paradox here: 
     
    When people are free to say what they want about themselves, they will rank themselves higher than average. 
     
    When people have to produce actual results, they are surprisingly good at evaluating themselves. 
     
    So is it a false belief or a bit of deception? I think it is deception. 
     
    The best way to gain status is to be above average. The next best way might be to claim you are above average.

  7. 98% is astounding. The only self-reporting bias of similar size I can recall is in some stats I saw for incoming freshmen at CMU, where something like 90% considered themselves at least above average in ‘health’ (for their peer group – I imagine 90% or better of eighteen year olds really are above average in health compared to the general population).

  8. I think part of the problem with IQ estimates, as opposed to say height, is that people can readily see whether they are taller or smaller than average, even if they are prone to exaggerate a little – however when it comes to IQ, I have met many, many people who truly believe they are very smart, but to me seem totally ordinary or even on the stupid side. 
     
    Why is this? I reckon it’s because, like color blindness, if you don’t have a very high IQ, then you really don’t know what you are missing, and you just assume the other people are processing stimuli just like yourself?!

  9. Possibilities: 
     
    People judge their own abilities in reference to their peer group and innate group loyalty causes an over estimate of their own group?s ability. 
     
    People judge the intelligence of others by how closely another person?s beliefs correspond to their own. This tendency causes an over estimation of one?s own intelligence. 
     
    People have different interests and values. A person will know more and care more about what most interests him. Thus people tend to discount the knowledge and ability of others. 
     
    Modern child rearing and teaching emphasize personal self-esteem, not realistic self-assessment. A person may answer a poll question with the ?correct? positive self-image response rather than a realistic assessment. 
     
    The low IQ people may not understand ?intelligence? and ?average? and may answer with a feel good platitude such as ?I?m smart.? 
     
    Axiom of Equality proclaims all people are equal. From there it is a small step to believe that one is just a little more equal than others. 
     
    Ramachandran may have not have accurately remembered or properly interpreted the survey results. 
     
    The poll question may have encouraged a particular response. 
     
    The sample size may have been too small to be meaningful. (98% seems very high.) 
     
    No study was done and the ?statistic? was a rhetorical fabrication.

  10. The question is badly formulated. What is “average”? Aritmetic average? Geometric average? Median? Most frequent number? Is it the “normal”? And gentlemen, what is “intelligence”? g ?  
     
    I used to travel to work in a bus that had a stop in a Government workshop where borderline people had productive employment and overhear their conversations. One of the most frequent word was “smart”. How smart are you! they used to say to each other, admiringly. They had very good opinion of their own mental powers.  
     
    I presume the 2% was made up from modest people like myself who avoid showing off our stunningly superior IQ.

  11. Klein has a point. 98% percent above average is logically possible, depending both on how the distribution looks and how the average is defined, i.e. a question of definitions.

  12. Fly’s comment was in a second before mine. Like Darwin and Wallace. Yeah, purposeful educational delusion may have caused the 98% result. Today, children’s self image is carefully inflated in school. Teachers and the media avoid offensive stereotypes and hurting people by telling them the truth. I always find that the computer genius in American series is an African American. Here in Israel mostly it is a Jew. I am kidding, of course.

  13. And I’ll bet the 2% that said they were ‘below average’ were the neurotic 110+ IQ self-loathing-as-identity types too.

  14. Who was that dude that always commented here always yakkin’ about how he had an IQ in the 80s?

  15. 98% of people surveyed (representative survey mind you!) considered themselves above average in intelligence. 
     
    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned this (Fly came close): Only the people with below-average intelligence were wrong!

  16. “And I’ll bet the 2% that said they were ‘below average’ were the neurotic 110+ IQ self-loathing-as-identity types too.” 
    There’s something to be said about being humble… as long as it’s about things that are self-evidently positive… and you really are being humble and not starkly deprecating.

  17. See the famous essay, “Unskilled and Unaware Of It…” at: 
     
    http://www.apa.org/journals/features/psp7761121.pdf

  18. Who was that dude that always commented here always yakkin’ about how he had an IQ in the 80s? 
     
    IIRC, Boknecht or similar??

  19. Jaimito said: 
    I presume the 2% was made up from modest people like myself who avoid showing off our stunningly superior IQ. 
     
    Well this too is a learned reaction, just as much as US kids learn to show off… 
     
    I know when I went to high school in a small (pop. 4,000), gritty, industrial town in Ireland – whose main employers were a carpet factory and an asbestos factory – that I learned pretty quickly to keep my head down and play dumb when teachers asked for answers or volunteers to prove a theorem or such, as the more questions I answered or solutions I volunteered, the more I got beaten up in the breaks?!

  20. If I didn’t overestimate my abilities and gifts, I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.

  21. PConroy: if you don’t have a very high IQ, then you really don’t know what you are missing, and you just assume the other people are processing stimuli just like yourself?! 
     
    Lol. 
     
    On the other hand, if you’re very smart, the average guy who can’t follow your train of thought would actually think you’re stupid.

  22. Manto, 
     
    True.  
     
    I was in the presence of someone over Thanksgiving who, not knowing I was an Atheist, was commenting on how stupid some people are who don’t believe in God. I asked, “How so?”, and his answer was, “It’s obvious, everyone believes there’s a God, so it must be true!”. I politely nodded and sought other conversations…

  23. Who’s is going to admit that he or she is stupid? Maybe in a fill-in-the-form survey – but to another person?  
     
    Also no matter how smart or not-so-smart, each of has their own ”niche” (and blind spots). You might be an illiterate criminal who excells at one thing – hot wiring cars. Do you think you’re stupid? Hell no, you’ve got a trade and you can impress your criminal friends.  
     
    Maybe if you get caught you’ll question you career choice.

  24. Hot wiring is a skill learned, not raw intelligence. Just like learning the English language, its a skill.

  25. Is there any field where the average person ~does not~ think he is above average? Public speaking?

  26. I’m surprised nobody has mentioned this (Fly came close): Only the people with below-average intelligence were wrong! 
    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned this: A majority of people were correct!

  27. I think that it is established that depressed people more accurately estimate the opinions that other people have of them; as measured by interviews of people who know the depressed person. 
     
    The non-depressed person has an inaccurate, high estimate of how other people view him/her. This is an advantage in evolutionary terms, I suspect.

  28. “…confidence is the key to success.. it’s a credit that we imagine ourselves to be better than average. 
     
    the nature of man is to struggle against being ordinary. we like to imagine ourselves unique in some way or the other..” 
     
    There was a study that came out a few years ago, showing that the most incompetent people actually had the most confidence on the jobs. Highly capable people are often the most quiet about their abilities. 
     
    To wit: Hans Christian Andersen, faux village idiot, author of deathless and beautiful cautionary tales. He had no problem being thought an idiot because he had a product up his sleeve that would leave the masses around him in the dust. It does come down to that–what is the fruit of your endeavor? your product? If it is only your own hot air, people will just want you to clear out. 
    Highly materially successful people are intelligent, confident, with personality traits of planning, organization and focus, and, in some fields, creativity. I have maybe 2-3 of those aforementioned traits, so great success will always elude me and I don’t really want anybody’s life depending on me anyway. 
    I’ll take the fool on the hill over the fool on the throne any day.

  29. There is also the matter of one’s reference group. When one thinks of what is average in smarts he thinks about the people he sees and interacts with every day, not those who move in circles he knows nothing about. Certainly he doesn’t think about a billion Chinese on the other side of the planet. And sense most people who hang out together don’t vary by more than a standard deviation, it may not be obvious who is smarter than whom. Except when some special situation arises, which among the lower ranks may hardly ever happen. 
     
    Here’s a test: How many commenters and posters on this blog think they are smarter than the average poster/commenter?

  30. Luke: 
    I can say that I think I’m less intelligent than the average poster here. It seems like everyone is 130 IQ or a good measure above, and I can only break over 130 on certain tests, and barely come out above average on something like the Raven’s Matrices.

  31. This corroborates the old saying: “Intelligence is distributed the most equitably as everybody thinks they’ve got enough of it.”

  32. Karoly, Disagree. I want more intelligence. Since age 13 my neurons are dying off and my memory is weakening. At a certain point, I shall be average, and then lower.

  33. Depressed people have the most accurate assessment of themselves, other people and just about everything. 
     
    Which is depressing. 
     
    I think blind optimism has been bred into us over the eons – as a survival mechanism – so that, in the face of extremely wretched conditions we still sing to ourselves, ”Tomorrow, the sun will come out again tomrrow …, and slog on.  
     
    The depressed accurately assess a wretched situation and give up the ghost.

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