“That’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” 1
That’s how Garrison Keillor ended his radio show, called Prarie Home Companion, for over 42 years. 2 Lake Wobegon was a fictional setting Keillor created for the show, but his famous send off line has taken on a new meaning.
“The Lake Wobegon effect” goes by many names (Better-Than-Average Effect, Superiority Illusion, etc) describes a motivational bias in which we tend to view ourselves favorably when compared to others. It has been easily illustrated in studies from driving skill to intelligence. In a YouGov study, 55% of Americans think they’re smarter than the average American. A study of New Zealand drivers showed that the average driver thought they drove slower than 85-90% of their companions.
Both of these statements can’t be true. The average is the average for a reason, right? Only half of us can be above average. That’s how statistics work.
Despite our best intentions, we view ourselves favorably when compared to others whether that’s inflating our own self-perception or degrading the perception of others in our own minds.
Why does this happen? More importantly, what can we do about it?