This post originally appeared in The Observer Magazine/Guardian online
How does your personality compare to that of the archetypal ‘man or woman in the street’ (who older readers may know as ‘the man on the Clapham omnibus’)?
On a scale of 1 (not at all) to 7 (very much so), please rate (a) yourself and (b) the average person, for the extent to which you are 1) moral: honest, trustworthy and fair, 2) a sense of agency: hard-working, knowledgeable and competent, and 3) sociable: friendly, cooperative and warm
Do you have a better personality than the average person? Most of us think so, but simple maths says we can’t all be right. If you’re like participants in a study conducted at Royal Holloway, University of London, you will have over-rated yourself on morality and agency, but been pretty much spot-on for sociability.
For each trait, participants also gave a score for how desirable they considered it to be. If the traits on which we rate ourselves highest are also the ones we find most desirable, then either we are all extremely lucky or, more likely, we’re kidding ourselves. Using some clever maths, the researchers calculated that the high scores people gave themselves for morality and hard work were only 7% true and 93% wishful thinking, but for sociability the scores were closer to reality. The researchers suggest that because morality and competence is so personal, we can all come up with a story in which we are in the right, others less so. This is harder for traits like sociability, where it’s trickier to argue against the facts.