On the far side of Lake Wobegon

Over at Hot or Not, the sole attraction used to be a seemingly endless collection of pictures of various and sundry individuals, which you would presumably rate for hotness, or perhaps notness. This gets really old really fast, especially for some soft-headed bozo like me who’s reluctant to give anyone less than a 4 out of a possible 10, except, of course, himself; when asked to rate myself on this scale in the past, I have usually said somewhere between 2 and 3, though lately I’ve cut myself a little more slack — say, 3.5.

But maybe I was right the first time:

Scientific American reports that a new study finds that “most of us think that we are better than we actually are — not just physically, but in every way.”

Psychologists Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago and Erin Whitchurch of the University of Virginia put together a slightly less feel-good experiment than the idealized setup in the Dove commercial above.

Participants were shown a cluster of images of themselves. One was original. The rest were digitally doctored. Some made the participant less attractive, while others made them more attractive. When asked to select the unmodified original, subjects tended to gravitate to one of the computer-enhanced images that made them look better.

It didn’t stop there. A stranger who had met the participant a few weeks earlier was asked to select that person from the same set of portraits. Surprise: They tended to pick the unmodified, less-than-perfect original.

And it gets worse. Says SA:

Most people believe that they are above average, a statistical impossibility. The above average effects, as they are called, are common. For example, 93 percent of drivers rate themselves as better than the median driver. Of college professors, 94 percent say that they do above-average work. People are unrealistically optimistic about their own health risks compared with those of other people. For example, people think that they are less susceptible to the flu than others. Stock pickers think the stocks they buy are more likely to end up winners than those of the average investor. If you think that self-enhancement biases exist in other people and they do not apply to you, you are not alone.

Nor do I have this going for me:

A 1995 study concluded that “negative correlations between individuals’ overall self-enhancement of their personality” led to more favorability among their peers [pdf]. In other words, people who didn’t think the world of themselves were more motivated to present themselves to others in a more positive light. They were more likable, possibly because they weren’t insufferable narcissists.

I admittedly don’t think the world of myself, but I do try to avoid presenting myself in too positive a light.


  1. Cripes Suzette »

    25 May 2013 · 4:11 pm

    When I was 25, a creepy unwanted admirer evaluated me, after much hmming and head-tilting, to be a 7.5. I was thrilled! When I was 28, I was upgraded to an 8 by a guy I dated maybe twice – can’t remember what even happened there. Whatever! 8! A year later I met a Paul Anka lookalike who thought that I was off the charts. We married and disintegrated together over the next three decades. Now we’re both pretty much untermenchen but we have out memories.

  2. McGehee »

    26 May 2013 · 7:14 am

    My wife seems perfectly satisfied with my hyphen of hawtness.

  3. Charles Pergiel »

    26 May 2013 · 10:17 am

    Average? Depends on how you are calculating, presuming you are doing actual math and not just guess-timating. Most drivers ARE better than average. When you consider that one out of 10 is a complete moron, it tends to skew the average. If 9 drivers rate 6 out of 10, and 1 rates a 1, the average is 5.5 (6 x 9 = 54, +1 = 55, divided by 10 = 5.5). And since 6 is better than 5.5, most drivers are better than average.

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