Psychology stumbled upon this phenomenon of
people thinking they are better than they actually are – and the evidence started mounting
up in the 1970s. Early on, somebody did a survey asking people
to rate how good they were at driving. Ninety percent (90%) of the people said they
were above average. So, they thought that was funny. But then they found the same pattern in all
these different studies with different phenomena. So, yes, the average person thinks he or she
is above average in lots of different ways. And at some point, surveying all the literature,
psychologists came to the conclusion let’s put these together there are three of what
they call Positive Illusions – where people generally overestimate the positivity of their
lives. So the first one is simply rating your abilities
and your successes as higher than they really are. You downplay your faults and your failures,
and you overestimate all your good points. That’s one way you end up thinking you’re
a more capable and successful person than the facts would warrant. The second positive illusion is that we overestimate
how much control we have over life. People tend to think they can steer their
fate and produce the results that they want. They can get where they want to go. They can take charge. So, when people estimate how much they are
in control of their own fates, people overestimate how much control they have. This is borne out even in very carefully controlled
laboratory studies – where you can make the outcome partly a result of what the person
does and partly by random chance the laboratory computer controls and ask them how much. People don’t acknowledge the random chance
aspect of the computer as much. Rather I should say most people don’t do
that. It turns out that people who are experiencing
depression tend to be more accurate, now this is interesting. Back in the 1960s, when psycho-therapists
began to look for new ways of treating depression, they thought, how can we change their thinking
style, these people are twisting everything into a negative frame, how can we get them
to stop doing that. If we could only get them to see the world
more accurately, they would stop being depressed. But then researchers began to find that depressed
people were seeing things accurately. It was the non-depressed, the seemingly mentally
healthy people, they’re the ones that are twisting things. But in a positive way. The third positive illusion is optimism. People are unrealistically optimistic. They think good things are more likely to
happen to them than to the average person, and bad things are less likely. People have been asked in studies questions
like, what are the odds that you’ll get a big promotion at work someday, what are
the odds that you’ll ever get sacked from work, and what are the chances that you’ll
have a happy marriage, and what are the chances you’ll get a divorce, and so on, over and
over. And people say compared to others, the chances
are more good things will happen to me and fewer bad things will happen to me. Again, we don’t know which people are distorting,
but we know people in general – the average person – is overestimating their good qualities
and their positive future.