Average Americans Think They’re Smarter Than the Average American

What does that mean for the country as a whole?

National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
May 12, 2014, 10:13 a.m.

For­get be­ing smarter than a fifth-grader. Most Amer­ic­ans think they’re smarter than every­one else in the coun­try.

Fifty-five per­cent of Amer­ic­ans think that they are smarter than the av­er­age Amer­ic­an, ac­cord­ing to a new sur­vey by YouGov, a re­search or­gan­iz­a­tion that uses on­line polling. In oth­er words, as YouGov clev­erly points out, the av­er­age Amer­ic­an thinks that he or she is smarter than the av­er­age Amer­ic­an.

A humble 34 per­cent of cit­izens say they are about as smart as every­one else, while a dis­pir­ited 4 per­cent say they are less in­tel­li­gent than most people.

Men (24 per­cent) are more likely than wo­men (15 per­cent) to say they are “much more in­tel­li­gent” than the av­er­age Amer­ic­an. White people are more likely to say the same than His­pan­ic and black people.

So, this many smart people must mean that, on the whole, the United States ranks pretty high in in­tel­li­gence, right?

Not quite. Ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey, just 44 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans say that Amer­ic­ans are “av­er­agely in­tel­li­gent.” People who make less than $40,000 a year are much more likely to say that their fel­low Amer­ic­ans are in­tel­li­gent, while those who make more than $100,000 are far more likely to say that Amer­ic­ans are un­in­tel­li­gent.

The res­ults are not sur­pris­ing. West­ern cul­tures have a habit of in­flat­ing their self-worth, past re­search has shown. The most com­pet­ent in­di­vidu­als also tend to un­der­es­tim­ate their abil­ity, while in­com­pet­ent people over­es­tim­ate it. Not out of ar­rog­ance, but of ig­nor­ance — the worst per­formers of­ten don’t get neg­at­ive feed­back. In this sur­vey, 28 per­cent of high school gradu­ates say they are “slightly more in­tel­li­gent” than av­er­age, while just 1 per­cent of people with doc­tor­al de­grees say they are “much less in­tel­li­gent.”

Of course, a Ph.D. doesn’t ne­ces­sar­ily meas­ure in­tel­li­gence, nor does how much money you make. Those factors, along with gender and race, may be bet­ter in­dic­at­ors of humbl­eb­rag abil­ity than brain­power.

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