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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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?

  10. 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.

  11. 41

    Great response, Karl R.

    I’d also add to that, Lance (although I suppose it’s implicit, but I thought I’d specify) the ability for analysis. Not just being able to perceive and memorize information, but the capacity to process it into some cohesive structure. Some people are just that – repositories of facts.

    As for how one gets a sense as to how their intelligence level compares to that of other people, I would say it’s in the depth (and speed) of comprehension and the capacity for logic. That’s intelligence. What makes one an intellectual is the propensity for abstract thinking (an actual inclination as opposed to a theoretical faculty – this is the one exception, I surmise, to the potential vs. accomplishment argument presented by Karl R above). By that I mean ruminating on subjects beyond the day-to-day existence.

    According to the most difficult test I personally took, my IQ is 153. As I’ve stated previously somewhere on this site, I do not attach undue importance to these scores (or formal education, for that matter, which you also mentioned). I draw conclusions about the superiority of my intellect from the number of people with whom I can communicate without having to explain myself. Sounds incredibly snobbish, I would imagine, but that’s how it is. And oh, the number of people I actually find challenging.

    I am intelligent enough to realize my limitations. I know I am largely ignorant, as the more I learn, the more cognizant I become of how much I don’t know. And with interests this multifarious my adeptness in most areas is superficial at best.

    I exhibit no social awkwardness you speak of. While it’s true that this relates to personality as well, I grant you that the line may be somewhat blurred here, as exceedingly academic people may be maladjusted to reality.

    Which brings me to another facet of the phenomenon: intelligent != interesting.

    By the way, wisdom or enlightenment are possible but not inevitable consequences of superior intelligence (this is, once again, a case where the synthesis with personality comes into play); although, I suppose, the higher the starting point, the greater the probability. Or perhaps I am mistaken on this one.

    Anyway, we are veering off topic, but hey, you asked. =)

  12. 42

    Continuing Evan’s regular commentators grand tradition of veering off topic I think intelligence tests ( aside from diagnosing disorders ) are a form of penis waving that anyone regardless of size or sex can participate in. Years ago I got one with a battery of other tests to determine if I have ADD (it was the 90s). I requested that I not be told the score and the proctor couldn’t understand why. I explained to him that I knew myself. I would turn the score into something bad whether I was high, average or low.

    Bringing it back on topic intelligence tests and these other ratings freak people out. Self acceptance skills training ( not self esteem ) is non existent AND “penis waving” is probably in our biology. We likely come from hierarchical social animals.

    The exact number a person would fit into is probably of use to no one other then the most vain. The concept of “being out of your league” is probably sufficient. Aside from the Shallow Hals out there the people who live with the concept the most would be dating coaches who routinely need to do reality therapy in a graceful way with their clients.

  13. 43

    Wow… I think the interesting thing here Evan is the number of highly educated, intelligent people out there who are reading your blog! While only having a Masters degree myself, the number of PhD, MENSA and high IQ individuals is probably higher here than on other sites. What do you think that says about those of us in the dating world? We are intelligent, but apparently also often cluless when it comes to knowing the do’s and don’ts of dating. Very interesting.

  14. 44
    Cathouse Teri

    I’m thinking I’m not smart enough to be in this conversation.

  15. 46

    Well, it sort of makes sense, Amy, as the “simpler” folk don’t theorize on dating, they just go out and date. And it’s much easier for them to find someone suitable – they have so many more options.

  16. 47
    Karl R

    Evan (#31) said:
    “everyone THINKS they’re above average. All that means is that we have to adjust our expectations to what online dating sites can yield.”

    Intelligence tends not to be a problem in this regard.

    Even for those of us who may be intellectual snobs (like JuJu and I) and who may have grossly overestimated our own intellect, we’re judging our compatability by how easy it is for us to converse with someone. Can we keep up with them? Can they keep up with us? If the answer is generally “Yes” (on a variety of topics), then we’ve found what we’re looking for.

    It’s only with Looks (and possibly Career) where we’re likely to be happy with someone vastly above us, and potentially unwilling to accept someone who is equal to us.


    Amy (#43) said:
    “the number of PhD, MENSA and high IQ individuals is probably higher here than on other sites. What do you think that says about those of us in the dating world?”

    I’d say that we tend to view dating as a topic that can be researched on the internet. This tendency is pretty common among certain demographics (like geeks) who tend to be a lot brighter than average. And like anyone who takes the time to do research, we’ve quickly become less clueless than those who didn’t take the time.

  17. 48

    Karl R, do not lump me into the same category when it comes to preferences in looks! ;=)

    I actually do not think I’d be happier with a man who is overall “prettier” than I (I’d even go as far as to say that most women probably wouldn’t – it would evoke [additional] complexes in them). On the other hand, if he doesn’t have a body as good as mine, there should be something (in his appearance) to compensate, like a more handsome face, otherwise I simply won’t be attracted.

    By the way, an important side note here: the body, generally, is much more important to me personally than the face. The face just should be pleasant enough not to negate the value of the body.

    I would be utterly content with a male version of me, looks-wise.

    As for career… things here are a bit different, as, despite my feminist leanings, my definition of a man is someone who is bigger and stronger than I am, in every way. Which is not to say I am looking for someone wealthy, but definitely on his feet financially, especially if he wants to start a family.

  18. 49

    Hi, After reading these comments, and a blog, I was laughing and smiling and I decided to come clean. Originally I played the straight and narrow and gave myself a 7 or 7.1 as if I were really in practice for a dating site.Not wanting to seem too presumptous or self assured or any other number of descriptive words one might use -I am amending my analysis-I’m a 20 and that’s final! Humor is always the best policy.

  19. 50

    [b]Karl R Jul 15th 2008 at 12:50 pm 47 [/b]

    [b]Amy (#43) said:
    the number of PhD, MENSA and high IQ individuals is probably higher here than on other sites. What do you think that says about those of us in the dating world? [/b]

    I’d say that we tend to view dating as a topic that can be researched on the internet. This tendency is pretty common among certain demographics (like geeks) who tend to be a lot brighter than average. And like anyone who takes the time to do research, we’ve quickly become less clueless than those who didn’t take the time.[/i]

    There might be several possibilities. I’m not sure what is at work with that situation, but one reason for “paralysis of analysis” is avoidance. Avoidance IMHO is usually driven by fear or a conflict/irrational belief just below the surface of a person’s thoughts.

  20. 51

    I’ll be the only honest person here.

    Attractiveness – scale of 1-10, I’ll give myself a 3. I have fair skin and a small honeysuckle.

    Intelligence : 5, otherwise I wouldn’t be here if I were smarter.

    Personality – can make people laugh, but not sure if they’re laughing AT me or WITH me. So, I’ll play it down the middle – “5.”

    Take home lesson from reading this board – everyone (but me I guess) mistakenly thinks they’re hot shit. No wonder people are hard to get along with.

    Y’all need a reality check. Find a brutally honest stranger on the street to set you straight.

  21. 52


    I don’t necessarily agree with Karl R on the reasons either, I am not a “geek” even by a stretch.

    Occasionally I might find an interesting bit here, in the articles or the comments, but most of the time I am not exactly learning anything new.


    1) strangers in the street don’t know anything at all about my personality, intelligence, and career;
    2) strangers in the street tell me I am gorgeous.

  22. 53
    Cathouse Teri

    JuJu ~
    Well, I’m so glad we “simpler” folk are here to entertain you.

  23. 54

    Oh, dear.


    That’s not what I meant.

    Karl R’s and Steve’s posts implied that the more intelligent people (or whoever they referred to) are so maladapted to the realities of dating that they have to conduct a research in the theory before engaging in the practice.

    I just enjoy reading all the advice columns I can get my hands on. I regularly read Carolyn Hax, Dear Prudence, and back when I was subscribed to Time Out New York, upon receiving each issue I went straight to the last page for the sex column. Oftentimes I empathize with the letter writers, and sometimes the issues interest me from a purely psychological standpoint.

    But the fact that I read them all doesn’t mean that I have all those problems. =)
    And that’s all I was trying to clarify.

    By the way, it did surprise me how many people on one discussion board could turn out to be Mensa members – apparently, not only is this experiment inherently unscientific, but this just isn’t a reliable cross-section to conduct it on.

    Anyhow, I am getting somewhat tired of this topic, especially since I seem to be the only one participating. ;=)

    But how few people volunteered their ratings – THAT is interesting in and of itself. ;=)

  24. 55

    Lets start a more substantive and less contentious off topic debate.

    Commode seats. Why do women assume that it is the right thing for men to leave them down for women. Why not the reverse? If somebody falls in, isn’t it their own for not looking before they sit?

    IM JUST KIDDING ( and I always leave the seat down…..)!

  25. 56

    I think this conversation is SO interesting (not the toilet seat thing, the ranking thing). Way to get me thinking, Evan! For more of my thoughts see a response to this:

    Really I think that you can take the rankings not as an indicator of where someone falls in a particular category when compared to other people, but how likely/unlikely they are to take action to change or improve themselves in that category.

    A low number means likely to take action to change/improve, even if it’s an inconvenience. A high number means you feel you’re fine the way you are.

  26. 57
    Cathouse Teri

    Regarding toilet seats, I have never understood the hubbub. If the seat is up and you wanna sit on it, put it down. If it’s down and you want it up, put it up. If a woman is complaining that she keeps falling into the toilet when she goes to use it, I have to ask her ~ “Are you backing up to the toilet?” 🙂

  27. 58

    @Honey, #56, you’ll come around 🙂

    @Teri #57. You think like a man. I’ve never understood why it became elevated to be a big deal. You just make things be the way you want them to be.

  28. 59

    Well, to participate in your conversation too, Steve, in our house the BF and I both leave both the seats and lids down. But that’s because we own various small animals that will drink out of the toilet, and that’s just NASTY.

  29. 60

    @Honey, post #59

    I haven’t had a cat yet that will drink anywhere, but out of a freshly flushed commode.

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