More Men "Strongly Agree" They Are Smarter Than Average

A majority of Americans thought they were especially sharp.

Posted Jul 05, 2018

In Lake Wobegon, the small, fictional, rural town in Minnesota that serves as the setting of Prairie Home Companion, “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

Most traits, such as height or IQ, are distributed according to the bell-shaped curve. When this is the case, we expect to find about half the population above the average value and about half below. Yet it seems that one human universal is the idea that most people believe they are above average. Being smart seems like something important to most people, so what about human intelligence?

Now, a new study — published in PLoS ONE by researchers Patrick R. Heck, Daniel J. Simons, and Christopher F. Chabris — used two nationally representative samples, telephone polling and online (total N = 2,821), to conclude that “a tendency to overrate one’s cognitive abilities may be a stable feature of human psychology.”

They asked people in their surveys whether they agreed with the statement: “I am more intelligent than the average person.”

'Heck, Simons, Chabris, used with permission'
Source: 'Heck, Simons, Chabris, used with permission'

Overall, the researchers found that almost two thirds (65 percent) of Americans believe they are more intelligent than the average person. They also uncovered that the more educated people were, the more likely they were to agree with the statement, and that in the online survey, younger people were somewhat more likely than older people to agree with the statement.

There was also a gender difference: Men were much more likely that women to agree that they were above average. In the telephone survey, 71 percent of men compared to 59 percent of women agreed with the statement, and in the online survey, 72 percent of men compared to 60 percent of women agreed with the statement. Men in particular were more likely to “strongly agree” with the statement, and it was found that the primary driver of the male-female difference was men choosing to “strongly agree” that they were more intelligent than the average person.


Heck PR, Simons DJ, Chabris CF (2018) 65% of Americans believe they are above average in intelligence: Results of two nationally representative surveys. PLoS ONE 13(7): e0200103.