Human immodesty knows no bounds. Most people think they’re better looking than average, more intelligent, better at driving and less likely to get ill. Psychologists seeking to explain this common delusion have suggested it serves a protective role: a shield against the depressing realities of fate, fallibility and social spite. However, a surprising new study by Sander Thomaes and colleagues directly contradicts this account. Their investigation with older children suggests that a realistic self view is more protective.
Two hundred and six children aged between nine and twelve years rated how much they liked each of their classmates and how much they thought each of their classmates liked them. This gave the researchers a measure of how realistic each child’s self-view was. Two weeks later, the children were invited to play a “Survivor Game” – a kind of internet popularity contest in which the least popular of four players would be voted out of the group. The game was fixed and half the children were told that they were the least popular. The other children received neutral feedback: another child had been voted out.
Using a measure of mood before and after the game, the researchers found that children with a more realistic view of their popularity at school were the least badly affected by rejection in the Survivor Game. By contrast, children with an inflated view of their popularity, or a deflated view, experienced a far greater drop in their mood after being told they’d been voted out.
“Our results suggest that vulnerable children holding positively or negatively distorted self-views may benefit from interventions that target their biased social-reasoning processes,” Thomaes and his colleagues concluded.
Thomaes, S., Reijntjes, A., Orobio de Castro, B., & Bushman, B. (2009). Reality Bites-or Does It? Realistic Self-Views Buffer Negative Mood Following Social Threat. Psychological Science DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02395.x