Chances are, you think that you’re better than your peers. That’s okay, the majority of us think that way; psychiatrists call it illusionary superiority. Interestingly, the parts of our psychology that make up illusionary superiority are so strong that even seriously bad outcomes, like being imprisoned, might not be enough to contradict them. Why do we say that? Well, apparently prisoners believe that they’re just as law-abiding as non-prisoners.
The study, published by the British Journal of Social Psychology, examined the attitudes of seventy-nine prisoners in the UK. Each was given a questionnaire, asking him to rate himself, the average prisoner, and the average non-prisoner in nine traits: morality, kindness to others, trustworthiness, honesty, dependability, compassion, generousness, self-control, and law abidingness.
So, here’s the first hilarious result: prisoners rated themselves just as law-abiding as the average person not in prison, despite the fact that being a prisoner means that one is, by definition, not law-abiding.
Here’s the second hilarious result: prisoners rated themselves as more law-abiding than their fellow prisoners.
Here’s the third hilarious result: prisoners rated themselves as superior to everyone, non-prisoners and fellow-prisoners alike, in every single other category.
According to one of the study’s co-authors, Constantine Sedikides, “The results showcase how potent the self-enhancement motive is. It is very important for people to consider themselves good, valued, and esteemed no matter what objective circumstances might be. For anyone who doubts this, ask them if they think that their children are perfectly average.”