Illusory Superiority

There has been more talk lately about illusory superiority. Let’s take a look at what it is and how to recognize it in others and even yourself.

Just like all organs in the human body, the mind is quite complex. It is an amalgam of intricate networks that help to dictate and process your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Optimal mental health is just as imperative as good physical health. However, most people tend to ignore various signs that could be an indication of compromised mental well-being.

Find Out How to Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs in a Few Simple Steps

What is Illusory Superiority?

As the name suggests, illusory superiority is a condition where people think that they are superior to others. They often feel that they are better, smarter, faster, and more aware than the average person. While it is considered a positive attribute to be confident about your skills. There is a fine line between being self-confident and overestimating your abilities. In fact, it has been said that ignorance more often creates confidence than does competence.

This condition often stems from people comparing themselves with other people around them. This comparison is quite common in academic settings as well as work environments. In such circumstances, most people assume that they are smarter than others. They believe they are doing a better job as well. They also assume they are more knowledgeable and more skilled than most everyone around them.

Research Studies

Several experiments have been conducted to understand the phenomenon of illusory superiority on a deeper level, one such research study was done by Kruger and Dunning, who tested different people on their cognitive skills. A group of people were tested by being given different quizzes and puzzles to solve. They were then asked to rank their perceived performance.

The actual results were calculated and then compared to the perceived performance by the taker. Most of the test-takers ranked themselves as above average. This cannot be true since most people are average. This indicated that the people who did not do well, but believed they had, were those likely to have illusory superiority. Believing that they were better than the rest when they were clearly not.

One of the negative issues with this is that the people who likely suffer from illusory superiority are convinced that they are in fact highly competent, and better than average. So, they do not believe they need to improve, or that there is even a problem. This means in the simplest terms, that stupid people do not know they are stupid, and that they believe that they are in fact smarter than the average person.

Illusory superiority also extends to other everyday activities. For instance, several different research studies conducted in the US demonstrated that people often consider themselves to be better drivers than average -when are not. Another showed that people also falsely believe that they are healthier and practice healthier routines when compared with their peers.

Over/Under IQ

However, the most prominent impact of this condition is noticed in comparisons of IQ. This is where people with subpar IQ levels believe that they are smarter than the average population. This condition has a specific name which is known as the Downing effect since it was discovered by C. L. Downing in his test studies.

His research deduced that the ability of people to analyze the IQ of others correctly greatly depends upon their own IQ levels. Therefore, this means that people with higher IQs have more chances of correctly estimating someone’s actual IQ than do others with low IQ levels. Again, stupid people are blissfully unaware that they are stupid.

Also read about The Peter Principle to find out about why incompetent people get promoted.

Socially Inept

Humans are social animals. We need to interact with other humans to enjoy a healthy life. Guess what? There are people who feel that they are superior at interacting with others and accumulating friends. For example, a recent study conducted showed that most people thought they were more popular when compared to their peers and friends. While most people thought that they were more social with a bigger social circle than their friends, that was not actually the case.

Since we are talking about human interactions, we should look next at relationships. Studies have shown that illusory superiority also exists in relationships believing whose relationship is more satisfying. One clear example is how the participants of a research study believed they had a better relationship than most all other people. They believed that they were happier and doing far better than almost everyone else.

Happiness Counts

While happiness is subjective, the thought of being better or doing better than others is the root cause behind illusory superiority. Such people think that they are enjoying their relationship and are truly content. So others certainly do not have the same level of satisfaction and contentment in their relationships.

Furthermore, when it comes to personal attributes such as being sensitive or punctual, some people consider themselves superior to others here as well. However, in a study that was carried out with people compared with their friends and peers. They believed they were better than their friends while believing that their friends were better than their peers. We can surmise that there is a clear sign of bias.

Who is more likely to Suffer from Illusory Superiority?

There are no concrete rules about who can get illusory superiority. There are, however, different factors that make it more likely to suffer from it. Take a few minutes to carefully consider the following:

1.     Gender

As per several types of research, gender has quite a prominent role in being affected by this condition. For instance, when it comes to intelligence or IQ, most men believe that they are smarter than their peers, while women believe that their peers are smarter than them, which means that men are more likely to suffer from illusory superiority.

But keep in mind, as discussed before, relationship satisfaction is also another factor for illusory superiority. Most women believe that most of the population is happy in their relationships. Men, however, research showed usually tend to become offended when their partners were thought to be more successful than them.

2.     Age

Age is also a major factor contributing to this phenomenon. This problem is found to be more prevalent in older populations. Older populations usually assume that they are smarter than those who are younger than they are. This point has been indicated by multiple research studies over the past decade. Older adults are more likely to consider themselves smarter than their peers as well.

3.     Geographical Location

You might be surprised, that geographical location plays quite a large role in causing illusory superiority. It has been discovered that people living in the US are more prone to suffer from illusory superiority compared to people living in East Asia, who usually tend to underestimate their skills and talents to fit in better. It may be due to conditions present in the different cultures. One being more individualistic and the other far more collectivist.

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How to Recognize Illusory Superiority in Others?

As you can imagine, it is often quite easy to recognize this condition in other people. Primarily because they outwardly believe and even proclaim that they are better than their contemporaries while they are clearly not. They are typically overconfident in areas that they should not be, and unaware of their incompetence. These people often also have extremely high self-esteem.

This condition can be observed in people who are continually comparing themselves and their lives with others. Especially in a downward direction, so they can boast about how much better they are. Their method of comparison will often not compare in an upward direction. That is except to tear down the accomplishments of those above them. They often cannot genuinely compliment peers, coworkers, family, or friends.

They tend to frequently use words such as average or below average on a regular basis. These are the favorites when they compare others to themselves. They tend to use the term above average when comparing themselves with others. 

This condition is usually prominent in the people who consider being superior in certain characteristics. Especially important or a measurement of who you are. It is often areas that they are not actually even average in but delude themselves into thinking they are. This means that they might be performing terribly at something. But they will still consider themselves to be better than almost everyone else. This condition has also been referred to as the Dunning–Kruger Effect, where people are unable to understand how incompetent they are at something. 

Are You Likely to Recognize if You Have it?

No, most people dealing with illusory superiority do not recognize the fact that they are suffering from it. For example, as mentioned before, this condition is common among people who are quite incompetent, but they believe that they are far superior and especially competent when compared to others. So, if you have it, you are too incompetent to realize that you have it. You will be certain that you do not have it because you consider yourself above average.

The best way to find out if you have it, is to ask others if you suffered from it. Chances are though, you probably believe you are smarter than they are anyway, so what do they know?

I know I have been tough on the stupid in this article, but worry not, I am not referring to you, if you were stupid, would you be reading an article about this subject… Of course not, because you are smarter than the average Joe.

What to Do if You Believe You Have it…

That is the best part! If you think you might have it, that is actual evidence that supports the fact that you do not. It’s your limiting beliefs that are holding you back from owning your success confidently. The belief system that helped you survive the tough times you have been through. Are not the same beliefs that will allow you to thrive. You need to replace your binding/limiting beliefs so you can confidently own your success. We look forward to sharing ideas with you soon.


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Aaron Jarrels

I am focused on helping anyone who wants to expand their reach. I help people overcome their limiting beliefs and show them how to gain the confidence to eliminate imposter syndrome that hinders success. I specialize in assisting people with shifting their mindsets and help them master the skills necessary to achieve professional and personal success.