optimism_focalism - ATTITUDES AND SOCIAL COGNITION The...

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ATTITUDES AND SOCIAL COGNITION The Influence of Egocentrism and Focalism on People’s Optimism in Competitions: When What Affects Us Equally Affects Me More Paul D. Windschitl University of Iowa Justin Kruger University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign Ericka Nus Simms University of Iowa Six experiments investigated people’s optimism in competitions. The studies involved hypothetical and real competitions (course grades in Experiments 1 and 2, a trivia game in Experiments 3–5, and a poker game in Experiment 6) in which the presence of shared adversities and benefits (factors that would generally hinder or help the absolute performance of all competitors) was manipulated. Shared adversities tended to reduce people’s subjective likelihoods of winning, whereas shared benefits tended to increase them. The findings suggest that when people judge their likelihood of winning, their assessments of their own strengths and weaknesses have greater impact than their assessments of their competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. We identify egocentrism and focalism as two causes of the bias. The experiments revealed moderators of this bias, but also illustrated its robust nature across a variety of conditions. Competition is ubiquitous. Whether applying for a job, vying for an “A” on a curved exam, or waging war, many of life’s most consequential pursuits are competitive in nature. As such, success depends on relative strength. An applicant’s chances of being hired is a function of not only her own ability to impress her potential employer, but also the ability of her fellow applicants to do the same. A student’s likelihood of earning an “A” on a curved exam depends not only on his own knowledge of course material, but also the knowledge of his classmates. And a nation’s ability to win a war depends not only on the nation’s own arsenal and tactics, but also those of the competing nation. We suggest, however, that when people gauge their chances of success in competitions, they often pay far greater attention to their own strengths and weak- nesses than to the strengths and weaknesses of their competitors. We base this hypothesis, at least in part, on several recent findings from the growing literature on people’s judgments of how their traits, abilities, and other attributes compare with others (Eiser, Pahl, & Prins, 2001; Klar & Giladi, 1999; Kruger, 1999; Price, Pentecost, & Voth, 2002; Weinstein & Lachendro, 1982). In particular, Klar and Giladi (1999) found that students’ judgments of how content they were relative to other students tended to be highly correlated with their judgments about their own level of contentment, but largely uncorrelated with their judgments about other students’ level of contentment (see also Diener & Fugita, 1997). Kruger (1999) found a similar relationship in social com- parisons of ability; participants’ ratings of their comparative abil- ities were based far more on their own skills than on the skills of the comparison group. As a result, participants rated themselves as better than average when asked about easy skills (e.g., operating a
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This note was uploaded on 05/12/2010 for the course PSYCHOLOGY clinical p taught by Professor Assistant during the Spring '10 term at École Normale Supérieure.

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optimism_focalism - ATTITUDES AND SOCIAL COGNITION The...

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