Do You Overestimate Yourself? Everyone Else Does…

woman on a couch looking at her laptop and smiling

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.)

Join our conversation (109 Comments).
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  1. 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!

  2. 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. 🙂

  3. 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.

  4. 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)

  5. 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.


  6. 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).

  7. 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!


  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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?


  11. 31
    Evan Marc Katz

    No, Brian. What I get out of this experiment is not that everyone is above average, but that everyone THINKS they’re above average. All that means is that we have to adjust our expectations to what online dating sites can yield.

    You CAN meet quality single people; unless you only insist on dating women who are considerably younger or more attractive than you. If those are your “standards”, prepare to suffer a bit.

    However, if you’re a solid, average guy – like most of us are – and you’re looking for a solid, average woman – you have the potential to do VERY well. Then, it just becomes a matter of marketing – photos, essays, emails, dating skills, etc.

    Click on the Services tab at the top to get a better sense of what I can do for you, to help you stand out from the pack. It makes a HUGE difference for men, especially since most men DON’T reach out for help and try to skate by with crappy photos/profiles. Those who put effort into this medium are richly rewarded.

    Everyone judges on looks, Brian, but MILLIONS of average, normal, everyday people DO connect online. Don’t give up.

  12. 32

    Well, Erik, what is one supposed to rate oneself when we seem to agree that if one is even somewhat attractive, they are automatically at least a 7?

    Okay, since I’ve been so vocal on this topic and Evan is ignoring my entirely legitimate questions anyway, here is what I can say about myself.

    According to the feedback I’ve gotten pretty much my entire life (since my teens re: my body), my body and my hair, on a scale of 1 to 10, are, like, 12. (And, well, I am sighted. :=)

    I would say my face is a 6, perhaps a 7 on a good day. I know that I am easy on the eyes, but not beautiful. I shared the subject of this blog with a male acquaintance, and he said I am way under-rating myself. After all, as I’ve been told (by many, not [only] him), I am striking and exotic-looking, and have tremendous sex appeal (the latter, in my personal view, being incomparably more important than classic beauty). But since he didn’t offer any specific number anyway (prudent! ;=)), I am going to stick to the ones above.

    So, what’s my overall rating on looks based on this info?

    Anyway, moving right along…
    Intelligence – 9.5.

    Personality – I think I am a very good and kind (and actually overly compassionate) person, but I’ve been told I am overly critical and pushy. I think in the past few years I’ve mellowed out substantially, but I know there is still room for improvement. So, no more than 6-7 there.

    Career – I don’t know, something like a 3. Completely unfulfilling and doesn’t pay much either (although by no means am I struggling). I have so many interests that 1) it took me a long time to figure out what it is that I want to do professionally, and 2) I haven’t been able to exert a sustained effort in any one direction. My college degree was in philosophy.

    As for men I dated – again, a definition question: by “dated” do we mean “went on at least one date with” or “dated for some time”? Because some of the men I’ve met online sent such misrepresentative photos of themselves (and, thus, I saw them only once), that I am not sure I should include them in these ratings.

    Okay, the faces of the men I actually had some semblance of a relationship with I would rate as 5-9. Bodies – I am not sure any one of them rated higher than a 7 on that (except for my very first bf (at age 13), who actually some years later went on to become Mr. “city we lived in” – he was handsome, too! okay, then, 9.5 for faces). One recent bf was very well-proportioned and muscular for his stature, but he was only 5’8″, so it doesn’t count.

    A great body is not something you see often on highly intellectual men. ;=) (And at 13 I didn’t have these standards. ;=)

    With one notable exception, everyone rated substantially higher career-wise, normally a 7-8. A few I would rate about the same as myself, perhaps a digit higher. The high career rating is not something I necessarily intentionally seek out – these are the men who are typically interested in me.

    With two notable exceptions, all were good, ethical people.

    Intellect is the biggest problem for me in dating. Or, rather, finding a combination of powerful intellect and physical attractiveness (and genuine kindness) all in one package. I’ve either eventually outgrown some of the men I was with, or, more likely, realized after getting sufficiently acquainted with them that their sophistication amounted to nothing more than an extensive vocabulary, but at least one of them was intellectually superior to me (at least at the time), which is what I ideally would like to have in a mate.

  13. 33

    I’ve been asking myself if it matters if people are accurately rating themselves.

    It matters to Evan. He deals with it all day. Getting his clients to accept reality so that they can get happier results then they are getting right now.

    Then the issue of the Shallow Hals out there. At least with that example I think “Hal’s” main problem is accepting life and getting his life in order. After that the Hals out there need to understand true self acceptance ( not self esteem ). Once somebody can do that, they can accept others. That means if they meet a nice person who isn’t an Einstein in a bombshell body they can still accept that person into their lives because they aren’t rating themselves by whose company they enjoy.

  14. 34

    I think one of the most difficult and powerful things a person in our culture can do is to accept the belief that they are an ordinary person.

    Ordinary people find love every day. Ordinary people get laid every day. Ordinary people lose weight every day. Ordinary people find that great job every day. Ordinary people achieve things every day that other people would like to achieve.

    If you are an ordinary person you can tell yourself that since you are ordinary person you don’t lack anything that other ordinary people have.

    You can tell yourself that if other ordinary people did it, that you can do it to.

  15. 35

    I’ll bite.

    I think I can improve upon my qualities, I think they are SLIGHTLY better than “average”, but realistically I am an ordinary person.

    I’m not finding cures for cancer, so I am not an Einstein, but I think I am intelligent. I’m not a 10 or a 9. The court is still out on the 8 as far as looks go. My married female friends are always telling me that I look good and that I “can do better”. I get a few bright smiles from women who are not bad looking here and there in my daily dealings as well as when I go out.

    Like everyone else I’ve had my self esteem issues. I am too terrified to put a number on myself. While I haven’t been dealt the absolute BEST cards in life, I think I’ve been dealt a good hand.

  16. 36
    Cathouse Teri

    I wouldn’t say I am “upset” about the idea of ranking myself. But it is certainly something I would not participate in. I don’t measure myself by numbers, neither do I measure others that way, so this sort of study (scientific or not) would be of no use to me.

    And as you mention, we can only rate the way we PERCEIVE ourselves. This makes the exercise not only unscientific, but really rather futile. It is never our place to decide our own level or attractiveness. It is quite simply impossible. And someone who fancies themselves able to do this is possessing of a character trait that I do not value.

  17. 37

    I’m much more forgiving when ranking looks than I would be for personality and smarts (for men and women). I’ve noticed a couple of the folks leaving comments that are in the 9+ category for intelligence, which to me is like genius territory, or very close to your highest potential. If you’re that high, what is the determinant that earns the ranking? IQ?

    I met a dude over the weekend (great guy) who has a couple of masters degrees and a PhD in computer science. Really really smart. You could argue that he’s a 9 in intel. But he’s socially awkward and the vibe I get is that he’s average emotionally. I roll social and emotional into the intel score because it’s all mind related. So I have to bring him down to a 7.5. He didn’t ask for my opinion of course, I’m just doing it for the sake of argument. But if we’re talking about intelligence(s) here, this guy has a ways to go to get the perfect 10.

    I wouldn’t be afraid to rank oneself as a 5 or even a 3, even in intelligence. It doesn’t mean you’re retarded, it just means you recognize you have a lot of potential and that you’re working on that potential. That’s my take.

  18. 38

    You know, Cathouse Teri, my own first impulse was to leave this discussion board entirely when I saw this article (for reasons I’d rather not verbalize).

    I finally succumbed because I am a strong believer in not asking in a partner for what one can’t offer. In other words, this discussion does have its place in the realm of dating.

    Also, if I were submitting a picture, I wouldn’t even dream of commenting on my attractiveness (and I never understood why other people do that in their profiles). But this is a different (and actually requested) format.

  19. 39
    Cathouse Teri

    JuJu, I certainly didn’t have the strong response you did. But I do have strong feelings about the negative effects of encouraging people to rate themselves. Still, I think this experiment could be beneficial. To plainly point out that self-perception gives us virtually no information at all. And if we can be so far off in viewing ourselves, how much more so with others?

  20. 40
    Karl R

    Lance (#38) asked:
    “I’ve noticed a couple of the folks leaving comments that are in the 9+ category for intelligence, which to me is like genius territory, or very close to your highest potential. If you’re that high, what is the determinant that earns the ranking? IQ?”

    Typically, the term intelligence is used to collectively describe many related abilities, such as the capacities to solve problems, to reason, to learn, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to think abstractly. Some people expand the term to include abilities such as creativity, knowledge, or wisdom.

    When I speak of intelligence, I’m referring to the first set of abilities, with some bias toward the abilities to learn rapidly and solve problems. Since IQ tests tend to focus on much of this first set, I’d consider that to be a reasonable (if slightly imperfect) indicator of intelligence.

    And if someone lists himself or herself as a 10, I’d expect them to have at least a genius IQ (136+ IQ).

    I would lump social-awkwardness and emotions under Personality, not Intelligence, especially since Evan asked us to rate Personality separately.

    I’d also disagree with your correlation between potential and intelligence. Intelligence is a measure of a person’s potential, regardless of whether the person is using it or not. Knowledge, education and even Career (yet another category separately rated) are generally the better measures of whether a person is using their potential. IQ tests try to specifically test intelligence without biasing toward people who know more or are better educated.

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