Monday, July 28, 2008

Flattering Self Portraits

I've often read that most people consider themselves above average drivers, or have above average leadership skills. Further, this bias is worse the more educated you are, though presumably we think only because it's more true.

But Jonathan Haidt's delightful book, The Happiness Hypothesis, introduces me to another such manifestation. Its seems when you artificially enhance someone's picture to be objectively more attractive, they pick their image out of a collage faster than if it is not enhanced. We recognize ourselves faster when we look more attractive than we actually are.

The book has what must be a dig at the Freakonomics Spawn, when Haidt notes:

Proving that people are selfish, or that they'll sometimes cheat when they know they won't be caught, seems like a good way to get an article into the Journal of Incredibly Obvious Results. What's not so obvious is that, in nearly all these studies, people don't think they are doing anything wrong. From the person who cuts you off on the highway all the way to the Nazis who ran the concentration camps, most people think they are good people and that their actions are motivated by good reasons.

Best book I've read in at least a year.


Anonymous said...

I'm presently reading this book and enjoying it a lot.. Got me thinking about my inner elephant, love that analogy.


Anonymous said...

It's not surprising that people consider themselves better-than-average drivers or leaders, because people each have different ideas about what makes a good driver or leader. E.g. is a good driver someone who obeys laws most consistently, someone who has the fewest accidents, or someone who optimizes the flow of other cars?

gary said...

It may also be that we don't notice the driving skills of other people, unless they are very bad. Therefore, if people are comparing themselves to the bottom 5% of drivers, they're gonna think that they are good.

(And this is probably true. The majority of people are most likely above the mean driving skill)

Bob said...

Thank you Eric. I have been circling this book for a while. I've have now ordered it on Amazon, and your endorsement was the tipping point for the decision. I'll try to remember to post a comment when I've read it.

I suspect that my leadership skills are pretty below average, if they measured by follower numbers (which seems a pretty good test). You can ask the local roads authority here about someone's driving skills. We have a points system. If you get too high a score, they don't let you drive.

Anonymous said...

This book is as good as the Black Swan, which you lambast. Both are ultimately about the confirmation bias.