Illusory superiority

“Oh man, this design is soooo stupid”. This is something that most of us have probably said at some point, and we are probably right when saying it. But how often do we follow up by thinking “I would have done it this way instead”? And to take it even further, how often do we follow up that thought with thinking about technical or monetary limitations, target groups, and other factors that affect the design? Probably not that often, if ever.

Actually, this whole “I-would-have-done-it-better”-way of thinking is rooted deep in human psychology. I once attended a psychology course where we were assigned a task to rate our skills compared to our classmates on a variety of areas, such as writing, reasoning, physical fitness, IQ etc. The scale for each area was 1-10, and our teacher reminded us that we should answer 5 on any question where we felt that our performance was on average. There were about 15 questions, and after we had answered all questions we calculated our own personal average. My average was about 7,5, meaning that I thought I was better than most of my classmates. After this, our teacher gathered the personal average from everyone and calculated that the total average for the entire class was about 7. So this meant that most of my class believed that they were above average. In other words, the perceived skill was higher than the actual skill. This is explained by a psychological phenomenon called illusory superiority, which means that you are pretty good at guessing others abilities, but really lousy at predicting your own. You will overestimate your performance more often than not. This phenomenon is based on the fact that believing that you´re better than others is good for mental health! In fact, the one group of people that do not overestimate their own abilities are people suffering from depression or anxiety. The more depressed people are, the more likely they are to underestimate themselves.

My take-away from this is that I from now on will try to come up with improvements whenever I criticize a product. Otherwise, maybe I’m just another victim of illusory superiority!

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