ISU study shows challenges in self-assesment

People aren’t always able to accurately assess their talents and abilities

Vanessa Miller
Published: April 2 2014 | 4:18 pm - Updated: 7 April 2014 | 3:06 pm in Higher Education,

Your singing voice might not actually sound as pitch-perfect as it does to you in the shower. Your mad skills on the neighborhood basketball court might not actually translate to overall athleticism.

A new study out of Iowa State University, recently published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, found that people aren’t always able to accurately assess their talents and abilities.

Too often, vague feedback from family members, friends and employers leads people to believe they are good at a job or have a talent when, in fact, they might not.

“This is one reason why we have barriers to self-insight,” Zlatan Krizan, associate professor of psychology at ISU, said in a news release. “Oftentimes, even if we get feedback, it’s not accurate.”

It’s easier to tell someone they’re doing a good job than to tell the truth and hurt their feelings, Krizan said.

“As a society we make the wrong trade-off by thinking that boosting self-esteem is going to boost performance,” he said. “And that rarely happens.”

Misguided self perceptions can lead to unsatisfying career choices and unhealthy relationships, according to the study.

“That empty praise of telling someone they’re great, or pretending there are not skill differences when there are, can really become a problem,” according to Krizan.

Krizan and Ethan Zell, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, conducted a meta-synthesis of previous research to see how self-insight relates to different abilities, according to ISU News Service.

The researchers analyzed large sets of data that examined correlations between actual abilities and beliefs about those abilities for more than 330,000 people. Their findings showed that individuals are more self aware regarding specific skills with defined measurements, like speaking a foreign language, than with less precise abilities, like athleticism.

With a foreign language, for example, people can immediately assess their ability when trying to speak, read or write. But, with athletic ability, people might choose to focus on areas in which they excel and ignore weaknesses, Krizan said.

That helps to explain why some contestants on reality TV shows like American Idol seem shocked to hear that they aren’t as talented as they thought, according to Krizan.

“Your expectations going into a performance will influence your experience,” he said.

This phenomenon can have ramifications in the workplace, according to Krizan, as most employers rely – to some degree – on candidates’ self assessments when hiring. And, in the case of team projects, co-workers often divide tasks based on individual talents,

“People who are good at evaluating their abilities will perform well in the roles they are assigned,” according to ISU News Service. “Team members who fail to deliver may need to re-assess their abilities.”

Based on the research, Krizan suggests setting specific measures for evaluation and feedback.

“If people are evaluating themselves in terms of very specific criteria, they’re going to have better self-insight because they are constrained by how to interpret the ability,” Krizan said.


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