Delusions of Mediocrity

I mentioned recently that I planned on adding monthly(ish) to my GPD Lexicon page, and my IQ post from Sunday reminded me of a term I wanted to add. While many of us are keenly aware of the problem of “delusions of grandeur” (a false sense of one’s own importance), I think fewer people realize that thinking oneself too normal might also be a problem.

In some circles this happens a lot when topics  like IQ or salary come up, and a bunch of college educated people sit around and talk about how it’s not that much of an advantage to have a higher IQ or having an above average salary. While some people saying this are making good points, some are suffering a delusion of mediocrity. They are imagining in these discussions that their salary or IQ is “average” and that everyone is working in the same range as them and their social circle. In other words, they are debating IQ while only thinking about those with IQs above 110 or so, or salaries above the US median of $59,000.  In other words:

Delusions of Mediocrity: A false sense of one’s one averageness. Typically seen in those with above average abilities or resources who believe that most people live like they do.

Now I think most of us have seen this on a personal level, but I think it’s also important to remember it on a research level. When research finds things like “IQ is correlated with better life outcomes”, they’re not just comparing IQs of 120 to IQs of 130 and finding a difference….they’re comparing IQs of 80 to IQs of 120 and finding a difference.

On an even broader note, psychological research has been known to have a WEIRD problem. Most of the studies we see describing “human” behavior are actually done on those in Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic countries (aka WEIRD countries) that do NOT represent that majority of the world population. Even things like optical illusions have been found to vary by culture, so how can we draw conclusions about humanity while drawing from a group that represents only 12% of the world’s population? The fact that we don’t often question this is a mass delusion of mediocrity.

I think this all gets tempting because our own social circles tend to move in a narrow range. By virtue of living in a country, most of us end up seeing other people from that country the vast majority of the time. We also self segregate by neighborhood and occupation. Just another thing to keep in mind when you’re reading about differences.

3 thoughts on “Delusions of Mediocrity

  1. It bothers me when people who are clearly somewhat above average in intelligence and reasonable upbringing try to claim that they have gotten where they are because they have worked harder or displayed some other virtue that made all the difference. It rapidly leads to contempt for others, who must not be as virtuous.


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