Rating your own performance

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: March 22nd, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

In the mythical village of Lake Wobegon, all the children are described as being above average.

In the real world, of course, that’s a mathematical impossibility. For any given test of mental or physical skill, roughly half of all people perform below average, by definition.

But don’t expect confirmation from all those underachievers. According to Cornell University psychologists, most people tend to overrate their abilities in academics, sports and everyday skills such as driving. The same holds for their self-assessments of character traits like honesty, generosity, even the ability to resist illness. If you ask people to compare themselves to others with respect to a particular skill or talent, most will say they are above average.

The researchers note that the poorest performers also are typically the worst at self-evaluation. For example, on standardized tests, students who score in the bottom portion of the class are more likely to think they actually finished in the top tier.

Top performers have a more accurate assessment of their own high performance but tend to think others are performing at the same level… perhaps because accomplishing the task is so easy for them.

The psychologists didn’t notice that these behaviors were influenced by age or gender, with one exception. Female students tend to underrate their science ability, even when their performance on tests matches that of their male peers.

To combat this tendency to think too highly of yourself, researchers suggest seeking as much information as you can from others about your performance.