As a life-long Nottingham Forest football club fan, one of my top two sporting heroes is Brian Clough (the other being Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce) — he took my team, a relative minnow of a team, to TWO European Cup finals in successive years and we won them both!

I think he had every right to be proud of what he did… Now the reason I mention this today is because he used to refer to himself as Old Big ‘ead. He openly loved the fact that he was that way and it made him even more of a hero in my book.

Apparently, it is not just purely over-confidence or big-headedness… If I openly testify to being the best hypnotherapist on the planet, I am not just being unnecessarily biased. Research demonstrates as much…

Ask most car drivers how good they are at the wheel and they are very likely to say and believe that they are above average (despite the fact that a large proportion of drivers must, by definition, be below average).

This is just one example of what psychologists call a “self-serving bias” or the “above average” effect. It’s part of the general tendency that most of us have to view ourselves in a particularly favourable light. Even those people who claim to have low self-esteem do this process of seeing their own perspective as being more correct in some ways. I know you know what I am talking about here today, don’t you?  

The initial thoughts we tend to have about this are that it is an ego-driven phenomena… By that, I mean that we do this because it makes us feel better about ourselves… Howevuuur… Apparently, there are at least two other more innocent explanations, not just my own brand of ‘big-headedness’ which are based on subtle flaws in our thinking. Let me explain…

According to this piece of research cited at Science Direct website:

The first possibility is that we find it easier to consider the favourable evidence for a single person than we do for a whole group. Consistent with this is the finding that people tend to be biased when comparing any single individual, not just themselves, against a group of others.

There’s also the possibility that we’re biased towards the “target” in any comparison. The “target” is the entity that is being measured up against some benchmark. Following this logic, if I asked you how good all other drivers are compared with you (thus making other drivers the “target” of the comparison and you the benchmark), then this ought to reduce the bias you’d show towards yourself.

A new study has tried to get to the bottom of what causes the “above average effect” by pitching these three explanations against each other. Zlatan Krizan and Jerry Suls Dozens asked dozens of undergraduates to list a group of friends or acquaintances, to take one member of that group and then compare that individual with the rest of the group on some attribute — say, generosity.

The researchers varied the contribution of the three factors thought to cause the “above average effect” by altering whether the student or another individual was the target of the comparison, by varying whether the student was or wasn’t left among the remaining group members to be compared against, by varying the size of the group, and by switching whether it was the group or the individual who was the target of the comparison.

The researchers’ conclusion after inviting the students to perform all these comparisons was that the obvious egocentric explanation for the “above average” effect is actually far weaker than has previously been assumed.

For example, asked to compare the generosity of an individual with the generosity of the rest of the group, students still showed a preferential bias toward the individual, even if they were themselves one of the members of the rest of the group. This remained true even if the group (which the student was themselves a member of) was made the target of a comparison against an individual. In other words, it is the difficulty we have thinking about the favourable evidence for groups, as opposed to individuals, that seems to be the crucial factor underlying the “above average effect”.

So there you go… I am off the hook… 🙂

I am celebrating my birthday tomorrow, it is not too late to get the card in the post along with the expensive gift, you know! Then I am off to a wedding on Friday, so I will not be around to blog much until next week… I hope you manage to get by without me 😉  Cheerio…