The Better Than Average Effect

The better than average effect is based on a cognitive bias that cause people to undervalue their negative abilities and qualities, while they overvalue their positive traits, behaviors and abilities. There is also a worse than average effect which is basically the direct opposite in the sense that the worse than average effect causes people to underestimate their positive qualities and

overestimate their negative ones. The better than average effect, or above average effect, is also known as the illusory superiority, superiority bias, or “primus inter pares (first among equals) effect” (2). In this paper I plan to explain and deconstruct the better than average effect so you can see the obvious flaws in this particular theory.

We will start off with the worse than average effect (also known as the below average effect) which is when one underestimates their positive qualities, capabilities and achievements. This is also a cognitive bias where people undervalue their own more desirable traits when chances of success are very low. Such traits and abilities include but are not limited to juggling, living to be one hundred or winning the mega millions lottery, and is often referred to as self-handicapping. It is not only my personal belief but that of others as well that people with low self-esteem seem to suffer from the below average effect more than others. “This effect also happens for particular abilities and situations, where people say ‘Oh, I can’t do that’, for example juggling or diving, where the reality is that with a few lessons they could be as good as most people.” (1).

The term illusory superiority was coined in 1991 by Van Yperen and Buunk, and refers to peoples tendency to overvalue their positive qualities, traits and abilities while undervaluing their negative ones in relation to other people. The effects of the better than average effect can be seen in many areas such as performance on tests and in the class room, personality traits and ablilities, such as happieness, popularity, or driving ability, intelligence, and ones ability to perform simple tasks. The main problem scientists are having with accurately demonstrating the better than average effect in experiments is that subjects may interperate the questions differently making it hard to have a constant. C.L. Downing conducted the first ever cross- cultural study on perceived intelligence and discovered