We are used to thinking that we are smarter, more athletic, more honest, or nicer than average. It's about better-than-average effect (literally "The better-than-average effect"). According to Ethan Zell, lecturer in psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, "When you give people a questionnaire in which they have to mark themselves against the average, almost all feel they are above the average in almost all areas."
The consequences can be serious. As psychology professor James Reason suggests, overconfidence in your skills on the road can lead to reckless driving and serious accidents. In medicine, this can lead to misdiagnosis; in law, to judicial errors; in the business world, to fraudulent actions or the bankruptcy of a company. Daniel Kahneman, 2002 Nobel Laureate in Economics, pointed out that if he had a magic wand with which he could change an aspect of human psychology, he would eliminate our superiority complex.
The virus of arrogance
New research led by York University lecturer in psychology Joey Cheng shows that arrogance can be contagious. "If you have been in contact with an arrogant person, then you are more likely to overestimate your own abilities", she explains. Within a team, this could have dangerous consequences.
For his study, Joey Cheng wanted to understand if our ego could swell in contact with individuals whose self-confidence is already oversized. One of his experiments had two stages. First, participants had to analyze the faces of strangers in photos to guess their character traits. Volunteers were asked to rate their ability to do this exercise compared to the rest of the group, so that the researcher could measure each other's levels of self-confidence. Secondly, the volunteers did the same exercise, but this time in pairs. When rating himself against others, Joey Cheng looked to see if the arrogance of one of the pair rubbed off on his sidekick.
After several experiments, the researcher was able to confirm that the illusion of superiority from one person could be transmitted to others. Within a group, this could even lead to a cascading effect, whereby all individuals feel superior to others. Finally, Joey Cheng also detects a "Spillover effect": Once a person becomes confident in one area, he or she would tend to become arrogant in another.