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Poll: Brunonians think highly of themselves

Average at Brown is pretty good - its students represent the cream of an already ambitious applicant crop.

But many Brown students think even more highly of themselves, a recent Herald poll found. According to the poll, which asked students to rate themselves "overall" against their peers, 40.5 percent of Brown students consider themselves "somewhat" or "well above average." While 40.8 percent said they considered themselves "average," only 6.2 percent said they were below average. Barely one percent thought they were "well below average."

The results don't seem to make statistical sense - intuitively, more than a small minority of a group must fall below its average.

But David Xu '12 said he found the poll results unsurprising. Most Brown students were used to being above average in high school, he said, and might be uncomfortable with calling themselves average now.

Professor of Anthropology William Simmons '60, a former University provost, said students may simply be pleasantly surprised with themselves given Brown's reputation. "People get here and they may find out that they're better than they had feared they would be, and then they have some validation for that in terms of the grades they get."

Simmons said he thought grade inflation could also help explain the poll results. "No one gets a C anymore," he said. "If you want to consider a B and an A above average, most (Brown students) are above average. ... Those who are average are a very small number."

But the explanation may actually be much simpler - in rating themselves so highly, Brown students may be pretty average after all.

These results are "very, very typical," said Professor of Psychology Joachim Krueger. "This distribution is what's been found in dozens of studies in all kinds of populations," he explained.

The results reflect what Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology Theresa DiDonato called "the self-serving bias." Essentially, she said, people everywhere think they are "better than everybody else."

While the overall result was expected, DiDonato said, she was surprised so many called themselves just "average."

Students, however, identified with their classmates' moderation.

Matthew Gariboldi '10 said he considers himself average and was not surprised that the plurality of students polled did as well. Once you get into Brown, he said, "You're pretty equal."

Maura Pavalow '11 was surprised by the results. "I feel like a lot of people I know think they're below average," she said.

Justine Stewart '11 said she felt most sophomores were overcommitted and "struggling" to be average.

But even students who are lagging may benefit from a little self-deception - according to DiDonato, a certain level of self-enhancement protects against stress, depression and anxiety.

"It's good that most Brown students have a positive view of themselves," she said. "The self-serving bias is ...normal, and it's healthy."

"Brown students tend to believe they're such a different group and that data collected with them really can't be generalized to the general population," said Krueger. But for both Brown students and the general population, "somewhat better than average seems just about the right place for people to be."

The Herald poll was conducted Oct. 27 and Oct. 28 and has a 3.6 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence.

A total of 649 Brown undergraduates completed the poll, which was administered as a written questionnaire to students in the University Post Office at J. Walter Wilson, outside the Blue Room in Faunce House and in the Sciences Library.


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