Do You Overestimate Yourself? Everyone Else Does…

The New York Times had a story yesterday on their Freakonomics blog, in which people rated themselves in both looks and intelligence. Not surprisingly, most seemed to slightly overrate themselves. I wish they took a few more average people to get a broader perspective.

This reminds me of an experiment in which I asked a handful of people to rate themselves in four categories: Looks, Intelligence, Personality, and Career. No one judged themselves as less than a 7 in any single category. Most were 8s and 9s across the board.

No one judged themselves as less than a 7 in any single category. Most were 8s and 9s across the board.

That might mean that these were extraordinary people. More likely it means that we all have a slight disconnect between how we see ourselves and how others see us. The good news is that having a combination of self-esteem and self-delusion seems to be exactly what allows us to function. How would we feel if we didn’t believe we’re above average in every single way? I’m not sure I’d want to know.

Anyway, since we’re all anonymous, what do you say we try the experiment here? Answer these 3 questions in the comments below:

Where do you rank yourself in Looks, Intelligence, Personality, Career?

How would you rank the “typical” person you date? Do you rank them higher or lower than you?

How do you think others would rank you behind your back?

If I have to participate (and I probably do), I’d give myself straight 7s. Maybe an 8.5 on intelligence, if I were to be embarrassingly honest. Maybe a 6.5 on career if I were to be more embarrassingly honest. But then, I do strive to achieve much more in life.

My typical girlfriends would be ranked a bit higher. Similar in looks, but generally impressive careers and great personalities.

And I don’t even want to know what others would say about me behind my back. I take back the question! But it is something to think about.

Anyway, I’d be curious to hear your answers below, as well as your thoughts on why it’s so hard for us to be objective about ourselves.


(BTW, if you’re really upset about the idea of “ranking”, or the fact that things like “kindness” aren’t on the list, your comments are duly noted. This is a very unscientific experiment.)

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  1. 1

    I’d have to argue that the ‘disconnect’ may often lie with the biases of the person doing the rating. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, no? So one’s person’s 9 might be another’s 6 and vice versa.

    How about intelligence, personality? Isn’t that linked to how well one converses, relates to the one doing the assessment? If you can speak on a topic in which the other person considers themselves “well-versed” aren’t you going to be percieved as more intelligent, more personable than if you knew beans about their areas of expertise? You may seem ESPECIALLY intelligent if you agree with them on all their own opinions. lol.

    And how objective can we be when it comes to romantic relationships? Love may not be blind, but infatuation usually is. I’d venture most of us give higher ratings all across the board to someone we are falling for. Contrast that to the ratings we would give the same person when the relationship has reached the end of it’s self life and we want out, out, out. Same person, but the ratings system has been colored by the experience of knowing them.

    Maybe we are not objective with ourselves, but I don’t know that we can truly consider ourselves objective when it comes to others either. That kind of rating is again a reflection of our own perceptions.

  2. 2

    How interesting, Evan! – I am going to be brutally honest here. 🙂

    Where do you rank yourself in:

    Looks – 7.5.
    Intelligence – 8.5 -9 (I totally under-estimate my intelligence all the time and I am tired of doing that.)
    Personality – 7.5 – 8. I tend to be a bit blunt and it can be off-putting to some people.
    Career – 7. I am highly educated and am employed, but I am working towards making my career better than it is.

    How would you rank the “typical” person you date? Do you rank them higher or lower than you?
    The typical person I date – between a 4 and a 6, if even that high. I had a huge problem for a long time believing that I deserved someone that could be good to me and for me. That stops now. 🙂

    How do you think others would rank you behind your back?
    It’s funny – I e-mailed this question to one of my best friends as well as showed them my ratings this morning (a guy who has no problem being brutally honest with me) and he told me that my ratings were too low. So who knows?

  3. 3
    Evan Marc Katz

    Your honesty is not particularly brutal, Robin. 🙂 Factor in your good, supportive friends, and, well, the only disconnect is why you consistently date “below” you.

  4. 4

    Oooh, brutal honesty is fun!

    Looks: 7.5 (though I think this is largely a factor of personal style as well, and how well your clothes fit and how high quality they are, etc.–as a girl if you know how to apply makeup properly you also have an edge).
    Intelligence: 10. I’m in Mensa. I would imagine that top 2% is a 10 by most people’s standards.
    Personality: 8. Though I agree with Selena that the more you know about what others are interested in, the more personable you are likely to be perceived as. I do make an active effort to know a little about everything and I do have a PhD in rhetoric, so I use a variety of conversational techniques like sandwiching (putting each disagreement or criticism between statements of agreement or compliment) that tend to make people feel good when talking to me.
    Career: 5. A toughie because I’ve never had a “real” 40-hours-and-benefits job (I just finished with grad school). I just got a job, and it seems to me an ordinary office job with decent (though not fabulous) pay.

    How do I think people would rank me behind my back? The BF would rank me higher on looks, I’m sure. People who know me well (and who I am less likely to agree with for the sake of conversation) might rank me lower on personality. People from my field might rank me lower in terms of career because I haven’t gone the tenure-track route (yet). People from outside my field tend to be very impressed and rank me much higher. If Lance reads this, he can tell you how he’d rank me! And if he does, I’ll reciprocate 😉

  5. 5

    OK, here goes…I’d say I’m a good solid 7 in looks, but that one is particularly subjective–it totally depends on who you ask. Women will give a different answer than men. Men who are considerably younger and considerably older than me seem to find me more attractive than men my age (too much like their ex-wives?). I’m curvy (in the hourglass, not overweight way), and it seems African American men, Latin men, and many European men are more appreciative of my body type. I date good looking men, so by the Joey Theory (you can only date one slot above or below your own), I figure I can’t be too far off in my self assessment. And I’m guessing the guy I’m seeing now, who is 17 years my junior, thinks of me as more than a 7.

    I really worked for that 7, though. I just got tired of looking like the moms of all the other students at my son’s high school. I lost weight, grew out my hair, made over my wardrobe to include more flattering and trendy clothes, got new makeup, started getting my nails done every week, whitened my teeth, and bought sexy new lingerie to make me feel good underneath. I don’t have a perfect body, but I have body confidence, and that seems to count for a lot. I wear heels whenever I can, because like the the lingerie, they set the tone for how I present myself to the world. I’m saying this because I think most people can change this ranking by one or two numbers if they work at it. In many ways, it’s probably the easiest of the four categories to change.

    I’m well educated and work in a medical/science field, and I know I have a high IQ, so I’d give myself an 8 for intelligence.

    Personality? I can make people laugh easily, and I’m comfortable speaking in front of an audience or meeting new people, but I don’t always like being with people. I have a pretty sarcastic sense of humor, which people either love or hate. I’d say 7 again, 5 or 6 on a crabby day (or if I’m driving–I’m from Boston).

    On the outside it looks like I have a great job. I make six figures and have been promoted in my company, but I’m bored and not doing enough to make a change (I’d really like to write for a living–maybe a book about dating in your 40’s?). I often phone in my performance, because I can get away with it. Knowing that, I’d have to give myself a 4 for not living up to potential (yes, Mom, my 5th grade teacher was right after all).

  6. 6

    Oops, forgot the other two questions:

    I’m picky about the men I date, so they tend to rank highly in all those categories, as well (again, the Joey Theory). I’m more willing to date a 6 with a great personality than a 10 with nothing to say, though. Career isn’t hugely important to me, as long as he can support himself. It’s more important that his interests overlap or complement mine. Also, I tend to gravitate towards edgy guys, so I date a lot of men in law enforcement, for what that’s worth.

    I tried to give an honest view of myself, so I think behind my back people would agree with the numbers I gave.

  7. 7

    Looks.. well, that is simple. with face stats it is “not bad” or “attractive”.. Hot or not had it as 8,2.
    What I want from a man.. I don’t want a handsome man, one with lively eyes is enough.. so someone 6-8 is fine.

    Personality.. well, I am a bit different from average person where I am, often too different to the small place where I have to work – in a bigger place I don’t stand out that much. How would I rate myself? An 8 there I guess too. But being a bit personal, I want someone who has enough self-esteem to handle that too, and enough of his own passions to be a bit different from mainstream.

    Being an DVM, I guess I get a bit over the normal intelligence level.. but I don’t value intellect that high, I prefer nice personality over it.

  8. 8

    Hi Evan -Great questions! I’m one of those women you’ve written about that has fallen on the harsher side of fate: I’m a 53 yr old widow.
    On LOOKS: I’m told I’m very attractive, but I would feel comfortable giving myself a 6, maybe a 7 on a good hair day.
    On CAREER: 5 I’ve had good accomplishments but my priorities have been my now adult children, and then developing my character. I know, it’s a very old fashioned profile, but it’s accurate and I’m proud and grateful.
    I look forward to your feedback

  9. 9

    Hi Evan,
    I’m so glad you asked-I Love Rankings! Nothing like a number to put you in your place and standing. I remember getting ranked in the first grade so ranking is forever, those first IQ tests! With that and my perennial optimism I rank myself in looks a 9.5 . In intelligence a 9.6, Ok maybe even a 9.7 here . In personality a 8 and in career a 1, as I’m unemployed right now! That averages to a 7or 7.1 ! If , when, I do become employed again assuming I am not magically a CEO of a large company that would put me above a 7, I’ll probably stay a 7. See, there is honesty in a ranking! And, truthfulness ! Since the career part pulls me down the potential is to get busy and pull the ranking up to an 8 or 8.5. My personality is tied in with my intelligence and I know this is offputting to alot of people who feel threatened by it so for that question of “behind my back” I think an 8.0 would be accurate. Finally, the people I date-once I would have said 8 to 9.5, and I shamelessly wouldn’t go out with anyone for any time I thought to be less, there’s this antique notion of “looking up to someone” I believe in! Marilee

  10. 10

    What is the purpose of this experiment?

    And, considering we don’t know what anyone except for you, Evan, looks like (or anything about their respective intelligence, personalities and careers), how will we ever know whether anyone who submits their ratings of themselves is “deluded”?

  11. 11
    Evan Marc Katz

    The purpose, JuJu, is to see if readers ALSO think they are way above average. And, thus far, they seem to. Doesn’t matter what they really are. But if everyone thinks he/she is an 8, it raises some interesting questions…

  12. 12

    Evan, I have to add I don’t think most readers consider themselves an 8 or better- perhaps just the ones confident enough to write you a comment back as you suggested! The question raised is why would people add a point or two and in general I think it is our human nature to see ourselves as we hope others see us plus some. In someone’s dark moments they may say oh I’m just a 6 but on a better day insist on an 8. But isn’t it all rather circumstantial? I mean by that, some men truly prefer blondes, I know, I’ve been told that and I have flaming red hair so to someone with those preference, shoot, I’m a 2! It’s our pride and our ego that makes us say whatever we pick, no matter how much truth is in the number! I can tell you my IQ is such, but I have days that are one dumb action , stupid thought, ill conceived idea after another! Yep, your readers are going to say 8 or 9 or 10 and yep, some days I think I am completely bonkers!

  13. 13

    And what then?

    Many women I encountered [I thought] overestimated their looks, some of them frighteningly so. I am aware of this phenomenon. Now what?

  14. 14

    Oh, and many men overestimate their intelligence.

  15. 15

    I am a bit surprised at this claim since it seems that people have such a hard time feeling good about themselves. I know several self effacing people (I am not one. I overrate myself, I am sure, but I feel good about myself so it is my reality.) I often offer support, encouragement, a different point of view to others in an effort to help them see the assets that are clearly seen by their friends.

    And, I under-date. I am a fall guy for a nice guy and so for a few months, intelligence, career, etc. are in the background. Then they surface and the compromise gets to be too great. This is a pattern I am trying to break. I need to be more picky at the onset or, as you put it, I don’t attract the wrong men, I accept the wrong men.

    I suspect the men I date would rate themselves highly which in my experience feels like self absorption.

  16. 16

    Hmm, let’s see. Well, I would say:

    Looks: 6. My friends (who were discussing this exercise earlier) were all, “oh, no, you’re so much cuter than a 6!” But let’s be realistic, here. I’m 42, could stand to lose about 10 lbs, and wasn’t a perfect 10 even at 25. I don’t think that rating myself slightly above average is a sign of low self-esteem. In fact, I may be delusional (see below).

    Intelligence: 9. I have a PhD, as a kid was a Mensa member, etc. But I frequently encounter people who are so brilliant and/or talented, they make me feel like a a slow child. So, since I’m not the smartest person in the world, 9 it is.

    Personality: 7.5 I can definitely hold my own in conversation, feel comfortable speaking in front of groups, have a good sense of humor and occasionally luck into a funny remark. I’m always trying to make people around me feel comfortable and at ease, so I think this is a pretty fair rating.

    Career: This is a tricky one, since I’m just starting a new career. So far I’ve been very successful at it, but we’ll see what happens. In any case, it’s never going to make me rich, or even give me a six-figure income, so I’ll go with 6. (For those who really value monetary success, I’d probably have to say 4.)

    If the “Joey Theory” is real, then I’ve probably overestimated my looks, since I haven’t dated anyone particularly good-looking except on rare occasions. My ex-husband is probably around a 5 now, but was closer to a 4 when we first started dating (back when I may have been more like a 7). I also seem to have trouble finding intelligent guys with personalities I find attractive, so either I’m doing something very wrong, or I’ve overestimated there as well.

    Most of the men I know tend to overestimate their own appeal, but I know a few women who are clearly delusional as well.

  17. 17

    The BF ranked me as a 9 in looks and in personality, but his ranking of my intelligence and my career was exactly the same as mine. Though he’d never date me if he didn’t find me attractive and fun, so I think the 9 is more reflective of how we are similar to each other than any sort of objective measurement.

  18. 18

    Where do you rank yourself in Looks, Intelligence, Personality, Career?

    Looks? Probably a 6, or maybe a 5.5. I seem to turn heads, a lot, but I don’t have a body anyone would fall over themselves getting to.

    Intgelligence? Have to go higher on that, I mean I am a card carrying MENSA member. But intelligence can sometimes be a turn off , so have to whittle that one down to a 6.5, maybe a 7.

    Personality? Well I’m Sister Mary Sunshine, life of the party, can find a laugh in anything. But, to be real, go to the 6 category again.

    Career? I made a choice to not expand my career in order to spend more time with my kids. So that’s wallowing in the 4’s.

    How would you rank the “typical” person you date? Do you rank them higher or lower than you?

    I no longer date, as I’ve found someone I want to devote my time to unconditionally right now, but the typical person I used to date I’d rank higher. Have to go up in the food chain you know.

    How do you think others would rank you behind your back?

    Behind my back I’m sure people think I have a few too many pounds on me, that I’m an intellectual snob, I talk too much, and that I could be doing so much more with myself and career, too bad I’m so devoted to my kids.

    Thanks for posting this and making up put the mirror up to ourselves. Have you found our responses to be what you figured?

  19. 19

    Okay, I finally read the article.

    When rating, are we to include all age and weight categories? Because that Christina, who in my opinion is not attractive at all, stated a valid point (I read some of the comments as well – she reacts well to criticism!).

    And how is appearance rated if face and body (and height, especially when it comes to men) receive different marks? An average of all aspects?

  20. 20

    Seriously, I am confused. In order to conduct an experiment, even such a highly unscientific one, we have to agree on the terms.

    By “average” are we to understand “moderately attractive” or an average person one would see in the street? Because, as one commenter on that blog rightfully noted, an average person is NOT attractive.

    I recall a line from some stupid old movie where Steve Guttenberg was trying to convince some woman that he is an 8 looks-wise. She replied, “Nah, you are a 5”, to which he humbly agreed. Well, compared to someone like Samantha’s boyfriend Smith, I suppose SG really is a 5, but if for an average man we are to take someone like Paul Giamatti or that man Nia Vardalos is married to in real life, SG is nowhere near a 5 (well, the way he looked back then).

  21. 21

    Hi Evan,
    What a fascinating blog you wrote! It really caused me to examine myself.
    Looks = 6.5 (5 = average)
    Personality = 8
    Career = 5
    If all your readers (including me) rank themselves so high in the eyes of the opposite sex, why haven’t we found what we’re seeking?
    BTW….that was a rhetorical question!

  22. 22

    Looks- a solid 5

    Intelligence -9

    career- 3.5 i expect this to change soon as i am in the middle of a career change. however if i was single and dating, i certainly wouldn’t expect a woman to be wowed by by current job.

    personality- i’m not even going to bother, this one’s just too hard.

    interesting to see how the early results bare out the hypothesis. also interesting to see how many people have brutally honest friends that tell them they’re even more wonderful then they think they are. 🙂

  23. 23

    Hi Evan,

    I do believe it’s in the eye of the beholder. If I were to use numbers (yeek!) I would not rate myself a, “10,” nor am I attracted to that. But, no amount of having a good job covers a big gut, as an example. In other words, though the total score may be relatively high, there still may be a deal breaker there. I think many of us are looking for a, “match,” i.e., almost a book end. To me it does seem men more often delude themselves, based on the age and looks of women they believe should be attracted to them. Maybe money or career does work magic on some other women; actually, I can see for some men, it must!


    Rankings? 8, 8, 8, 4
    About the same for the men I actually end up dating.
    Several trusted friends I’ve known for a long time have said (with no provocation) you are sooooo smart, and one, “I’m not particularly intelligent myself, but I recognize true intelligence when I encounter it.” so I may be rated with more smarts than I give myself credit for. Otherwise, I think the above ratings would be about the same.

  24. 24

    Looks – 8
    Intelligence – 7
    Personality- 10
    Career – 5 ( I make a good amount of money but I don’t love what I do and am not very motivated at work…so hence the low rating)

    How would you rank the “typical” person you date? – 8
    Do you rank them higher or lower than you? – same

    How do you think others would rank you behind your back?
    Looks – 8
    Intelligence – 7
    Personality- 10
    Career – 8 or 9 (some friends are materialist and think money is the only thing that matters so hence the high rating)

  25. 25

    Hey, blogged a response to this excellent post:

    Also want to say that the majority of this audience, ie bloggers and blog freaks, are going to be above average in most of the categories, particularly intel. If you’re looking for the average or below average folks, try the local Wal-Mart on a weekday.


  26. 26

    Looks: 4-5 (50 pounds overweight but I clean up very nicely when hair/makeup are done; well groomed with a pretty face. Thus I consider myself “average” or a notch below. When I was a size 6 and more fit, I was a 7 (i.e., really cute but not a knockout. I’m more Mary Ann than Ginger.) I always dated men who were at least a 7-9 in attractiveness. I guess inside, I still envisioned myself in those skinny little Calvin Klein jeans from 10 years back. I would say my husband is 8.5. When he was in his 20s, he was what I call soap opera hero handsome. He said to me when we were dating, “It’s true, men are pigs, we all want to date a supermodel, but when you grow up you realize that’s not what’s really important in a serious relationship.” So ladies, if you are more of a Roseanne than a Mary Ann — look for grownups to date, regardless of their age.

    Intelligence: 10 (99th percentile in testing; also in Mensa and qualify for Intertel). With one notable exception, I have always dated men who are at least my equal. Dating more than one standard deviation away in terms of IQ leads to serious disconnects everyplace but in the sack. (See “notable exception” reference above.)

    Career: 10. I reached the pinnacle of my profession in my late 20s and have stayed there ever since.

    Personality: 5 when I’m feeling cantankerous and probably 7 otherwise. This one has improved with maturity as I’ve learned about things like tact and letting go of having to control every situation. I would say I tended to date men who were way below me on this attribute. They would be sweet but boring/nerdy, or abusive bad boys who drove me insane. It’s partly an intelligence plus social skills thing. Hard to find both in the same package. My husband and I are a good fit personality-wise. He has taught me how to be whimsical and enjoy childlike things again and let loose more (who knew farts could be this fun again at 47?), and I keep him grounded and broaden his perspective. We have a lot of influence over each other and a lot of mutual respect. And we have a ton of fun!

    My biggest problem in dating was always the looks aspect. I figured the superior intelligence and career success, coupled with being funny and challenging and a grownup to boot would make up for not being “hot.” My theory was probably partly true, partly wishful thinking. Whenever I was hurt in relationships, it’s because the guy would come clean about not being that attracted to me because of my weight. Interestingly though, I have done 95% of the breaking up. I always dated well above myself in terms of looks, and only dated two overweight men (more than 35 pounds overweight. +10-15 pounds is cute in my eyes.) Despite being heavy, I never had a problem getting dates, however I am rarely hit on “in the wild” except by black men (I am white). I’ll walk into a room and they’re all over me. I have to admit, I love the attention, as I find black men very attractive (though I’ve only dated interracially a couple of times).

  27. 27

    Hey Evan,

    When I think of “average” in this country I do think of all those people in the airport or the mall who are overweight, with the bad fashion (that’s about all one can know, just based on visuals.) Seriously, if you are slender, active and dress well, you are already a 7 on looks, and if you add nice eyes, high cheekbones or what have you, higher. This is not an attractive nation.

    If your looks are true to your photo, and you are relatively in shape, I’d give you a 9 for looks. My guess is you’d rate more than a 7 in other areas as well!


  28. 28
    Karl R

    How I rate myself:
    Looks: 7
    Intelligence: 10
    Personality: 6 (I’m heavily T instead of F on the Meyers-Briggs personality test. Empathy and compassion are largely intellectual exercises for me, and I can withstand other people’s misfortunes with a great deal of fortitude. On the other hand, I tend to be laid-back, tolerant of faults in others, generally happy, and I use humor to make everybody’s day better. Bridging that gap, I have the ability to conceal what I’m feeling to the point where I can appear to “get along” with the people I despise the most.)
    career: 6 I have a job that I find challenging and intellectually stimulating. I love my job. But my job provides an average and unsteady income.

    How I’d rate my girlfriends (current and ex-):
    Looks: 4-8.5 (In my opinion, they’re 6-9.5. I date heavily to my “type”, which is a little non-standard.)
    Intelligence: 8-10 (I prefer to date my equals, but they’re rare.)
    Personality: 6-8 (I tend to date women who are generally nice people, but share some of my personality flaws.)
    career: 1.5-8.5 (If the woman can support herself without my assistance, she’s sufficiently successful.)

    How others rate me:
    Looks: 3-9 (I’m slender and somewhat androgynous. Either I’m a woman’s “type”, or I’m not. Women who found me attractive have described me as “graceful” and “a pretty man.” I’ve also learned how to appear confident and relaxed … even in the rare circumstances when I don’t feel that way.)
    Intelligence: 9-10
    Personality: 7-9 (I hide the darker sides of my personality except around my “peers”, who have similar flaws.)
    career: 3-5 (Many people would say that I’m seriously underachieving for my intelligence.)


    Evan asked:
    “How would we feel if we didn’t believe we’re above average in every single way? I’m not sure I’d want to know.”

    Provided you’re not below average in every way, it’s not too hard to maintain self-esteem even when you’re below average in one or two categories. As JuJu hinted at in #20, we don’t agree on the terms.

    I’ve always had a good opinion of my intelligence. But I didn’t have such a good opinion of myself in other areas (particularly looks or career) until more recent years. By convincing myself that intelligence was more important than the other categories, I could “weight the average” in my favor.

    With career success, who would you say is more successful: a paralegal who loves his job, or an MD who hates her job? Who is more financially successful, a teacher who lives well within her means, or a corporate vice president who is financially over-extended to the extent that he is living paycheck-to-paycheck?

    Is it more useful to appear a little above average to most people, or is it more useful to appear quite attractive to the minority of women that you want to date?

    Either within the categories or between the categories, I can manipulate the terms in ways that boost my self-esteem.

  29. 29

    I’m surprised by the answers honestly. Even when told “most people are deluded and rate themselves above a 7” people still rate themselves high.

    Looks: 3. I combine plainness with goofy teeth and bad hair. So take low average (4) and knock me down a point.

    Intelligence 7. I’m bright. I’m smarter than most people who are considered bright, and very clear of the tremendous gulf between the sharpness of my mind and that of some of my associates. And the gap between those people and the true great minds of the world. Take high average, bump it a point, you’ve got me.

    Personality 6. I’ve been told I’m charming, but I can also be very awkward, and I’m easily dwarfed by truly charming people.

    Career 4. I do very well, at a job I hate. I’ve repeatedly passed up career opportunities because I want to be in a different field, and the current job is one of convenience. It pays well, but it’s a holding pattern.

    As for those I date, as you might guess I don’t date often. Generally I date above me in some categories and vastly beneath me in some other. Charming pretty people who upon further inspection have no real intellectual depth, or bright, pretty women who I’m embarrassed to introduce to friends.

  30. 30

    Given the high ratings above, Is there hope for an average or below average person in the dating scene–either online or not. Do you agree “as one commenter on that blog rightfully noted, an average person is NOT attractive.”

    No love or companionship for the average? Should all the average-looking folks on the boards drop their memberships since there’s no hope?


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