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I Am Better Than You Are!

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

One of the hardest obstacles to settling a dispute is overcoming a party’s sincere belief that she is above average and therefore is right and the other person is wrong. Known as the "Lake Wobegon "effect, Wikipedia explains:

The Lake Wobegon effect, a natural human tendency to overestimate one’s capabilities, is named after the town. The characterization of the fictional location, where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average," has been used to describe a real and pervasive human tendency to overestimate one’s achievements and capabilities in relation to others.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Wobegon)

Well, it seems that even prisoners believe that each of them is better than average than their fellow inmates and even the non-prison population! Researchers from the University of Southampton, The University of London’s Royal Holloway College and Ohio University decided to demonstrate this trait objectively by studying a "…group of people whose personality traits are too irrefutably negative to convincingly prove otherwise: convicted prisoners. (http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2014/03/social-psychology)

Interviewing 85 prisoners in a South England jail, most of whom had been convicted of robbery or violent crime, the researchers asked the prisoners "…to assess how they compared with both the average fellow prisoner and the average member of the (non-prison) community…" in terms of morality, trustworthiness, honesty, dependability, compassion, generosity, law-abiding, self-control and kindness to others. ( Id.)

What the researchers found did not surprise them:

Unsurprisingly, the prisoners rated themselves better than the average inmate on every trait: they considered themselves more moral, trustworthy, honest, dependable, compassionate, generous, law-abiding, self-controlled, and kinder to others. Remarkably, they also rated themselves better than the average member of the non-prison community on eight out of the nine traits. The exception was "law-abidingness", where, although they did not rate themselves above average, they rated themselves as equally law-abiding-perhaps the study’s most surprising finding, given that they were behind bars. (Id.) (Emphasis original.)

To the researchers, this Lake Wobegon effect is more a measure of self-enhancement than rationality. Especially since the prisoners- already convicted of crimes- view themselves as equally "law-abiding" and "honest". Are they in denial? Or, are they minimizing the severity of what they have done? (Id.)

If the prisoners believe that they are "better than average", what about the rest of us, who, are not felons but rather, may actually be moral, trustworthy, honest, dependable, compassionate, generous, law-abiding, self-controlled and kinder to others? Is the truly "honest" person more extreme in her belief that she is "better than average"?

While I do not know the answer to this question, it certainly makes for an interesting mediation. It is difficult to settle a matter where each party believes that they are superior to the other and therefore "in the right"!

…. Just something to think about.

                        author

Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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