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Why Do People Usually Overestimate Their Abilities?

It turns out that being somewhat overconfident is simply human nature. When asked to rate certain abilities and traits, such as intelligence, charitableness, or how well they can drive, most people give themselves above-average grades, such as a score of 7 out of 10. But by definition, it's impossible for a majority of people to be above average. This phenomenon is actually a well-known cognitive bias called illusory superiority. Psychologists theorize that some degree of self-delusion actually protects a person’s mental health. It is also likely that people generally lack the skills needed to accurately assess their own abilities.

Our above-average culture:

  • Studies have shown that incompetent people are more likely to overestimate their skills, whereas top performers are more likely to underrate themselves, says Cornell psychologist David Dunning.
  • Most people do well assessing others, but are wildly positive about themselves. “When it comes to us, we think it's all about our intention, our effort, our desire,” Dunning explains.
  • “North Americans seem to be the kings and queens of overestimation,” says Dunning, adding that, in general, Western culture values self-esteem, while Eastern cultures value self-improvement.
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