• Jeff Lee

Illusory Superiority: That Jerk Just Overtook Me in Traffic!

Updated: May 18

"Our navigators had found a better home for us, and we will move out today!" commands the leader of the tribe. "We will need to cross the valley of the snakes before nightfall, so that we will have a safe place to stay for a night before continuing our journey."


"Affirmative!" and everyone started packing.


As hunters and gatherers, tribes are always on the lookout for a new home that is safe and with accessibility to various food sources. Most possesses minimal personal belongings, every tribe members will be responsible mainly for the tools of their own crafts (eg. hunters will be carrying their weapons, gatherers will be carrying their "baskets", etc.).


Moving swiftly is one of the most important skill required by every tribe member, a slow member of the tribe will be left behind, which ultimately meant an imminent death.


The journey is lead by the leader of the tribe accompanied by the navigators, everyone else is walking behind him/her while the tribe warriors are on high alert, minimizing potential threats to the tribe. Occasionally, the leader will turn around to see if the tribe members are doing OK, and this is a great time for any tribe members to show agility and strength.




Imagine that you are one of the tribe member


It is highly probable that, other than the few individuals that you respect and know that they are more agile than yourself, you felt superior to all the other peers walking alongside of you. All based on your own standards.


While you are walking and munching on your snacks, a peer that is not in your "respect-group" overtook you and starting walking in front of you. How do you think you would feel?


Definitely agitated and intimidated! The next time the leader turns around, you will be falling behind a jerk that just wanted to make you look bad! That jumpy feeling starts to pour, you are feeling nervous and disturbed, thinking "HOW could he/she?"


To demonstrate your agility is very important, sometimes, it's a matter of life or death. The survival instinct had kicked in, carefully planning the next course of action to overtake that jerk as soon as possible.


Now, back to 2020.



Are you a better driver?


Psychological scientists Michael M. Roy and Michael J. Liersch found that most people may rate themselves as better than average drivers, they believe themselves to be more skillful and less risky than the others.


Across four experiments, Roy and Liersch found that people often believed that others, in the contrary, would rate them as a worse driver (about 10% worse) than they rated themselves. Most probably because there is no standard definition for “good driving,” people tend to use their own unique, individual definitions. So, a slow and cautious driver could have a totally different definition of “good driving” than someone who likes to drive fast and aggressively.


So, are you a better driver? Most probably you are, based on your own definitions, like the tribe members 50 thousand years ago.


Why do we think that we are better drivers?


In social psychology terms, illusory superiority is a condition of cognitive bias wherein a person overestimates their own qualities and abilities, in relation to the same qualities and abilities of other people (we think we are better). This illusion is somehow part of human "being". It is not limited to driving, most of us think that we are more intelligent, having more healthy habits, higher IQ or more popular than our peers.


When illusory superiority makes us feel that we are better then others, the body will react to that overtaking jerk as a threat, activating related stress chemicals, preparing us for the fight or flight response. So it is very human to feel agitated and intimidated whenever you are overtaken in traffic or at a metro station.


BUT not without surprise, illusory superiority is actually a positive illusion that provides us with an optimistic view of events in a harsh and cruel world, keeping us from the chronic stress of life itself. Even when experiencing the worst case scenario, we, humans are capable of seeing a negative event with rose color lenses.



What can we do about it?


For starters, be mindful that your brain is wired to amplify negative thoughts in order to make you feel threatened easily, for survival. So, whenever a trickle of anxiety starts to kick in over insignificant matters, be mindful of the subconscious body, take deep breaths in order to delay the response, always make an effort to avoid body-over-mind.


This mindfulness of both the inner workings of your brain and the outer mechanisms of fear-promotion can by itself make you less prone to needless fear.


Then you won't be so vulnerable to intimidation by apparent threats that are in fact manageable, but blown out of proportion by the ancient human instinct.



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