Most People Are Their Own Worst Judge

Many overestimate, underestimate their abilities, study finds

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FRIDAY, June 4, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Whether you believe you're a violin virtuoso or a fiddle fiasco, you may want to get a second opinion.

It seems most people are poor judges of their personal abilities, say researchers from the University of Michigan Business School, Duke University and the University of Chicago.

They found people at all skill levels, from poor performers to top achievers, display similar degrees of inaccuracy and bias when they compare their abilities and talents to those of their peers.

The researchers concluded these judgment errors are linked to perceptions about the difficulty of a task. When a task seems difficult, top achievers underestimate their skills relative to their peers. When it comes to tasks that appear easy, lower achievers overestimate their standing relative to their peers.

"Judgments of relative ability play an important role in decisions about engaging in competitive activities, purchasing goods and services, and undertaking challenging tasks," Katherine Burson, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Michigan Business School, said in a prepared statement.

"Overestimates of relative ability can lead to frustration, loss and even physical harm, as in the case of beginning skiers who attempt to ski advanced trails. On the other hand, there also are significant domains in life were relative ability may be underestimated, so people fail to participate when they would have succeeded," Burson said.

In three studies, she and her colleagues had volunteers do a series of 10 tasks involving quizzes, trivia and word games to investigate the cognitive processes that underlie people's judgments of their relative standing.

More information

The National Mental Health Information Center has information about self-esteem.

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, May 28, 2004

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