So What Do the Top 5% Think of Themselves?

Recently I commented on a piece at that talked about how 40% of us think we're in the top 5%.

But what about that top 5%?  What do they think?

According to a new article at, the same researcher who gave us the 40% number now says that those people don't think they're very smart at all.

Say what?  

Cornell University psychology professor David Dunning says, "By far it is more common to find people overestimating rather than underestimating themselves, but a minority of the time it is certainly possible for people to slip into perceptions of 'impostorship.' They do so mostly for the same reasons that people overestimate: Life provides no answer sheets objectively telling people how well they are doing. They have to infer it, and they can make mistakes."

Writes Alyson Windsor, "I found this article fascinating because many of my smart and successful friends and colleagues seem to have the opposite problem. They tend to rate themselves as less competent than they are and feel like frauds when they're praised or awarded for their work. I've read that as many as 70 percent of Americans struggle with impostor syndrome, this feeling that accolades are undeserved and their success is a fluke, at some point in their lives. How is it then that most of us also overrate our own abilities?"

Dunning found that top performers often miss just how special or unique their performances are, Windsor reports. "They 'get' how they are doing objectively, but they think the task is easy for everyone and so think of themselves as nothing special. Aspects of this sound like the imposter syndrome, in that everyone is telling the imposter they are so good, yet the imposter believes it comes easy to everyone else, too. What the imposter may not know is just how much everyone else is struggling."

Hmm.  I can see how this is true.  Writing comes very easily to me so I just figure that anyone can do it.  You get an idea, you pick up a pen, or run to the computer and start typing away.  But that's not how it works for quite a lot, if not most of, the world.

Conversely, my son, who's very good at math, can look at a very complicated calculation and figure out what needs to be done while I run screaming from the room (well, not really, but you get my drift).  

Top performers miss how special they are because those performances come so naturally to them while people at the other end of the spectrum are tricked by their own ignorance into over-rating their performances, Windosr surmises.

How many times have you seen someone boast about a grade they got while someone with an even higher one says nothing?  We're all guilty of over-inflating our skills, at times, but I've learned it's best to let the facts speak for you.


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