Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Most Americans Think They're Not As Racist As Others Are: Social Psychologists Explain
A new CNN poll found that most Americans think that racism is still a problem, but that other people are racist, not them.
Social psychology may provide an explanation. There's a body of research that explores why people tend to hold overly optimistic views about themselves. Among other things, people tend to selectively recall their past behavior, remembering the good and forgetting the bad; and they evaluate themselves in an overly positive manner - the "above-average effect."
In one fascinating article, Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own. Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments, Justin Kruger and David Dunning tried to figure out how this could be. In four tests, they evaluated participants' humor, logical reasoning, and grammar, and also asked participants for a self-evaluation in these areas. They found that those who got the lowest scores in the objective evaluations scored among the highest in the self-evaluation.
Kruger and Dunning concluded that those with limited knowledge ("unconscious incompetents," in management-speak) not only don't know, they don't know that they don't know. David Rakoff of the NY Times cautions us not to intepret this to mean simply that "it's the idiots who are always most certain they're right." Rather, he suggests, "what's most telling is the very ease with which the study lends itself to carping zingers about everyone else's stupidity. It speaks directly to our anxious desire to distance ourselves, as loudly as possible, from incompetent people -- as if incompetence were subject to that same you-are-or-you-aren't dichotomy as pregnancy."
But, he concludes "of course, you can be a little bit incompetent. All of us are." Just like we're all a little bit racist. We just don't want to admit it.