Response to: False Self Esteem is BAD


Lucy Merriam (who is a regular commenter and adored by me) says –

“It seems like you’re forgetting about that good-old psychological phenomena, The Superiority Illusion (aka, the Lake Woebegone Effect).

Just read a great Neurotic Thought blog about it, btw, which is a great tumblr that takes the latest findings in psych and neuroscience and puts them in non-academic terms.

Summed up, it’s this: 95% of people overestimate their own ability at any given task. ANY. They rate themselves as above average or highly skilled, especially on tasks that are work-related or ones they are enthusiastic about (like an art hobby). In your example, this is sports.

And studies show that this illusion is actually BENEFICIAL for a person’s psychology, to a surprising degree. In fact, a person can have the superiority illusion to quite an extent before it becomes classified as a delusional (detrimental) behavior or mindset.

How does it benefit people? People who have the Superiority Illusion are more willing to try again at tasks that they fail at the first time, often many times. In fact, a study of children showed that children who consistently overestimated their ability to do well on a verbal quiz (even after being given the results of the previous quiz) were willing to take the quiz again TEN TIMES, whereas students who estimated how they did on the quiz accurately only tried the quiz once or twice.

Some scientists believe this is because they don’t take it personally when they fail. They “bounce back,” assuming to a degree that failures are the result of external factors that will adjust themselves to meet their own high expectations of success.

People with the Superiority Illusion are statistically much less likely to suffer from depression, OCD or GAD.

And remember, the majority of people experience this illusion to a degree. The 5% of people who do not have huge rates of depressive mental illnesses and risks of suicide.

Thus, what you’re calling “false self-esteem” is actually a fairly normal psychological phenomena that benefits children, rather than being destructive towards them.

Science > Anecdotal Evidence


Peeta’s Response –

1) I am going to read that blog and check a few things

2) I am not going to say you are wrong but my information is based of hundreds (and potentially over one thousand), which is often more than a psychological study is based off of, interactions with college students & regular adults who struggle both academically, in sports, and professionally when they are faced with their first real challenge because they are no longer the super star they were told they were.    In all fairness my study is not based in science but I find it hard to refute interactions with so many people who all feel similarly.

3) You are also talking about a self since of being better than one is and NOT somebody being told over and over again they are great when they are not.

In short I will go read up on the psychological info you provided and report back here after I do (:


One comment

  1. Thanks! Just an idea about number 2, (my own thoughts, no science behind it) regarding the discrepancy about what you observe and what the NT blog talked about. Maybe people are misattributing why they feel like they can’t conquer challenges?

    For instance, people are getting discouraged by challenging things (for instance, getting articles rejected or being cut from a sports team) and then they instinctively blame their over-encouraging parents who, they think, didn’t prepare them for the realities of rejection.

    However, I would guess these people are misplacing the blame for their feelings. Getting rejected hurts, and it probably wouldn’t hurt less or be less scary if their parents hadn’t been “overly” encouraging, even if people suspect otherwise.

    Also, I agree with your third point in a way. Still, I think the two ideas intersect. People believe they are better than they are in part because adults tell them how great they are. But, they are slightly different, if overlapping, ideas.

    I just wonder, when making the distinction, how one makes the judgement call? When does it cross the line between constructive encouragement and what you view as destructive?

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