Misjudging Our Skills, Unhealthy Habits, Etc.

You’re better (or worse) than you think. That’s the gist of a report by researchers at the University of Michigan Business School, Duke and the University of Chicago. The study looked at the way people rate their abilities compared to other people’s. Misjudgments were rife, and not just by incompetents who overrate their skill. The study sorted its participants by ability, gave them tasks of various difficulty and asked them to predict how they’d fare vis-à-vis other people. “With harder tasks, unskilled participants expected to do poorly and, therefore, believed that their standing would be lower, which proved to be the case.” But skilled people also expected to do relatively poorly on the hard tasks, which turned out not to be the case. When tasks were easy, skilled participants accurately predicted that their performance would be above-average. Unskilled people had the same expectation, but their work failed to justify it. Advertisers who play on their target audience’s sense of accomplishment (or lack thereof) will wish to take these tendencies into account.

The smorgasbord of bad health habits offers many choices. But which is the most unhealthy of all? In a reader poll by Glamour, 20 percent of women said their worst health vice is eating too much junk food and sweets. Sixteen percent said it’s a failure to exercise; 15 percent cited smoking. Among other bad habits: getting too little sleep, getting too much sun and working too hard (each cited by about 5 percent of the respondents).

Do girls see math and science as male preserves? Not to judge by data in a Gallup Tuesday Briefing. When asked to cite their favorite subject in school, girls age 13-17 were nearly as likely as boys (22 percent vs. 24 percent) to pick math. Equal numbers of girls and boys (12 percent) chose science. The big gender gap came in the number who cited English/literature as their fave: 22 percent of girls vs. 5 percent of boys. So, what classes take up the slack among boys? Phys ed and shop.

A politicized multiculturalism is often used as a bludgeon in the culture wars. But this hasn’t soured Americans on having diverse cultures in their midst. In a poll fielded for Associated Press by Ipsos-Public Affairs, people were asked if they agree with the statement, “It is better for a country if almost everyone shares the same customs and traditions.” Just 12 percent of Americans agreed “strongly,” with 15 percent agreeing “somewhat”; 46 percent disagreed strongly, 25 percent somewhat. When the question was posed in five nations in Western Europe, nearly half the respondents took the mono-cultural position, either strongly (20 percent) or somewhat (28 percent). As the chart below indicates, Americans have mixed feelings about immigration. But they were nearly three times as likely as the Western Europeans to say immigrants have a very good influence on their country.