Monday, October 31, 2005

"'Know thyself' - easier said than done"

Benjamin Franklin wrote in his 1750 Poor Richard's Almanac that "There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one's self." The problem of achieving accurate self-knowledge hasn't gotten any easier in 250 years; and, as shown in a new research report, there are major real-world consequences to this very human attribute.

In "Flawed Self-Evaluation: Implications for Health, Education, and the Workplace," investigators David Dunning (Cornell), Chip Heath (Stanford), and Jerry M. Suls (University of Iowa) summarized current psychological research on the accuracy (or rather inaccuracy) of self-knowledge, across a wide range of studies in a range of spheres. Their report is published in the recent issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the American Psychological Society....

People generally underestimate their own susceptibility to serious health risks like high blood pressure, cancer, or food poisoning -- partly because they overestimate how different they are from the norm in terms of behaviors that might put them at risk. This can influence the steps people take -- or don't take -- to prevent or treat such problems. On the other side of the health equation, doctors (being people too) overestimate their competence to treat problems outside their areas of specialization.

A similar overconfidence is found in education at all levels. Students and people undergoing professional training show a strong tendency to overestimate their mastery of new knowledge and skills, and teachers and peers are generally much better able than a student is to accurately predict the student's performance on tests....

Although a degree of self-deception may be just part of human nature, individuals aren't completely to blame for their lack of accurate self-knowledge, according to Dunning. There are social and institutional barriers to self-knowledge, such as the difficulty of giving honest critical feedback in workplace settings, as well as to the simple fact that people don't have access to the full range of human competence and skill against which to evaluate their own. Also, in many areas, what people are striving for -- excellence -- is ill-defined.

More @ Medical News Today

From 'Flawed Self-Assessment: Implications for Health, Education, and the Workplace':

People, on average, tend to believe themselves to be above average -- a view that violates the simple tenets of mathematics. In a survey of nearly one million high school seniors, 70% stated that they had "above average" leadership skills, but only 2% felt their leadership skills were "below average." On their ability to get along with others, almost all respondents rated themselves as at least average -- with 60% rating themselves in the top 1% (College Board, 1976-1977). College students think they are more likely than their peers to live past 80 and have a good job; they think they are less likely to acquire a drinking problem or suffer a heart attack (Weinstein, 1980).

Such above-average effects, as they are called, are not constrained to college students. Motorcyclists believe they are less likely to cause an accident than is the typical biker (Rutter, Quine, & Albery, 1998). Business leaders believe their company is more likely to succeed than is the average firm in their industry (Cooper, Woo, & Dunkelberg, 1988; Larwood & Whittaker, 1977). People think they are less susceptible to the flu than their contemporaries, and as a result avoid getting flu shots (Larwood, 1978). Of college professors, 94% say they do above-average work (Cross, 1977). People signing up to bungee jump believe they are more likely to avoid injury than the average bungee jumper, although their friends and family do not share this impression (Middleton, Harris, & Surman, 1996). Ironically, people even state that they are more likely than their peers to provide accurate self-assessments that are uncontaminated by bias (Friedrich, 1996; Pronin, Lin, & Ross, 2002).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

People, on average, tend to believe themselves to be above average -- a view that violates the simple tenets of mathematics.

This statement is not true.

Take an example of 10 individuals who have had their leadership skills tested. 9 score 20/30 and one scores 1/30. 90% of the individuals have above average leaderships skills.

I believe you are thinking about "median".

5:33 PM  
Blogger RC said...

I take your point -- and I think you are probably right. No doubt the authors were talking about the median.

However, technically speaking, the median is a type of average >>

Average most often refers to the arithmetic mean, but is actually ambiguous and may be used to also refer to the mode, median, or midrange.

7:59 PM  

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