Economic Inequality Is Linked to Biased Self-Perception
The tendency for individuals to overestimate their own merits has long vexed psychologists, philosophers, employers, co-workers and spouses. Formally known as self-enhancement bias, it’s nearly universal but varies significantly from country to country. What societal factors might promote its prevalence?
A 2011 report published in Psychological Science, “Economic Inequality Is Linked to Biased Self-Perception,” surveyed 1,553 participants from 15 countries — primarily from young, university-based populations — to measure the correlation between self-enhancement bias and levels of national income inequality. The survey asked each participant to rate the value of 80 personality traits and then rate himself or herself with respect to each trait. Participants’ ages ranged between 15 and 27, with approximately twice as many females as males.
Key study findings include:
- While self-enhancement effects were found in every country, a higher level of national income inequality was linked to an increase in its residents overestimating their skill levels. “People see themselves as superior to others to a greater extent in societies with a higher level of income inequality.”
- Higher levels of self-enhancement bias were found in South Africa, Peru and Venezuela; lower levels were found in Japan, Germany and Belgium. The United States ranked in the middle, with approximately one of four participants demonstrating self-enhancement bias.
- Participants typically scored themselves higher on the top 20 skills rated overall as most desirable by in their country, with the notable exception of participants from Japan.
- The age and gender of participants influenced self-assessments, as did a society’s level of individualism and an individual’s reactions to political power. However, these factors influenced self-enhancement bias less than a country’s level of income inequality did.
The authors suggest that “individualism and economic inequality may work in concert to foster a perception of competition that results in cultural differences in levels of self-enhancement. Likewise, both … may undermine the norm of modesty.”
Tags: cognition, youth, inequality, Africa, Asia
Read the study-related Science Daily article titled "Economic Inequality Is Linked to Biased Self-Perception."
- What key insights from the article and the report should reporters be aware of as they cover issues related to income inequality and self-enhancement bias?
Read the study titled “Economic Inequality Is Linked to Biased Self-Perception.”
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?