HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
March 12, 2007, Herald Journal

Beware of the blissfully unaware


Is your intelligence above average, or below?

Most people, when faced with this question, will say they are above average.

An astute observer, however, will spot a problem with this right away.

It is statistically impossible for everyone to be above average. By definition, somebody has to be below average.

One might argue that intelligence is over-rated, and I agree.

It is not necessary to be in the genius category to have a perfectly full and happy life.

The problem involves those people who think that they belong in one category when they are clearly part of another.

Some estimates suggest that between 70 and 90 percent of the population believes they have above-average intelligence.

If we split the difference, and assume the figure is 80 percent, this means that about 30 out of every 100 people are wandering around thinking they are above average when they are not.

These are the knuckleheads we have to watch out for.

If someone is a dimwit and realizes it, then he will likely live within his limitations and do just fine.

He will ask for help when he needs it, and not be a threat to anyone.

It’s the people who are blockheads, and don’t see it, who terrify me.

Much research has been done on the subject, and it seems clear that most people are not as bright as they think they are.

The phrase “blissfully incompetent” has been used to describe those with an inflated self-image.

These numskulls are too thick to realize that they are clueless, which makes them a danger to themselves and others.

It is a two-part problem: these people arrive at incorrect conclusions and make poor decisions, and they lack the ability to realize it.

Do you know anyone like this?

Based on the research, it stands to reason that in any group, a certain percentage of the members have an inflated view of their own intelligence. What affect does this have on the rest of the group?

Think about the people you encounter in your day-to-day activities.

Would you like to be under the care of a surgeon who thinks he is a genius, but is really not very sharp?

Would you feel comfortable riding with a taxi driver who thinks he is Tony Stewart, but has the ability of a 15-year old with a learner’s permit?

I would much rather put my trust in a person of average ability who has a more realistic view of his skill level.

Confidence can be a good thing, but over-confidence can be tragic.

Educated people are just as susceptible to this inflated self-image as those without advanced degrees.

It has been reported, for example, that 94 percent of college professors think they do above average work.

Obviously, some of them are mistaken.

Some studies suggest that other people may be better equipped to judge our abilities than we are.

Apparently, most of us are just not that good at self-evaluation. In fact, research has shown that based on very limited information, strangers did just as well at predicting the IQ scores of study participants as the subjects themselves.

A big part of this is self-deception. No one wants to admit that he is below average.

Whether we like it or not, somebody has to be on the bottom half of the chart.

We all have different skills and abilities. We just have to watch out for those who don’t know the difference.

One final note: a colleague, upon proofreading this column, asked where I fall on the scale.

This is a fair question, and I want to make it absolutely clear that I am operating under no delusions.

I am a person of very ordinary intelligence, and I need to use all of my ability and a fair amount of cunning just to try to keep up with the smart people.

I make it a point to surround myself with bright and creative individuals, and shamelessly steal every idea and kernel of knowledge I can get my hands on.