It is widely known—or at least widely believed—that people are overconfident in their own abilities. Psychological research has consistently found, in fact, that people have too high a self-assessment when it comes to traits that they see as important or socially desirable. We tend to think we are funnier, better leaders, better at driving and even more attractive than we really are. But what do people think about one of the most desirable and important traits a person can have: intelligence?
The claim that “most people think they are smarter than average” is a cliché of popular psychology, but the scientific evidence for it is surprisingly thin. Most research in this area has been conducted using small samples of individuals or only with high school or college students. The most recent study that polled a representative sample of American adults on the topic was published way back in 1965.
Do people today think they are smarter than average? We set out to get an answer. Working with our colleague Daniel Simons, we conducted two surveys: one using traditional telephone-polling methods, the other using internet research volunteers. Altogether we asked a combined representative sample of 2,821 Americans whether they agreed or disagreed with the simple statement “I am more intelligent than the average person.” Our results were published this month in the journal PLOS One.
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