Is there a term for overestimating the importance of something you happen to be good at?
January 5, 2006 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Is there a term for overestimating the importance of something you happen to be good at?

For example, being a professional baseball player requires a variety of skills: hitting, throwing, running, catching. Someone who's strong in, say, running, but weak in the other areas might (consciously or unconsciously) take up the position that strong running is the essential contributor to a team's success. Conversely, someone could play down the importance of areas they aren't strong in (a different concept that would probably have a different associated term). It seems to me that psychologists must have documented this well enough to have a simple label for it.
posted by jjg to Writing & Language (18 answers total)
In politics and media, isn't this called "spin?"
posted by evoo at 9:59 AM on January 5, 2006

self-aggrandizement comes to mind but i don't think that's what you're looking for
posted by eighth_excerpt at 10:09 AM on January 5, 2006

Sounds like an attributional bias, possibly self-serving bias.
posted by sellout at 10:11 AM on January 5, 2006

Oops, here's a link to self-serving bias.
posted by sellout at 10:13 AM on January 5, 2006

its called the false consensus effect. Link to wikipedia, and a more academic article.
posted by rsinha at 10:14 AM on January 5, 2006

Unskilled and Unaware
posted by prostyle at 10:15 AM on January 5, 2006

some people would call it vanity and leave it at that
posted by pyramid termite at 10:18 AM on January 5, 2006

I've seen Matthew Yglesias call something like this "The Pundit's Fallacy," which I always thought was a cool term.

So Allen Greenspan knows money, and finds all of the US's money problems to be the most pressing. But Richard Clarke just happens to know counter-terrorism, and so finds terrorism America's most pressing problem. Planned Parenthood finds family planning an important issue, and thus thinks birth control and abortion issues are the most important things facing UN citizens.

In general, pundit X knows everything there is to know about issue Y, and thus assumes that issue Y is the most important issue of the day.

Etc. I don't know if it's widespread enough to really be known, but for the intellectual side of this coin, I love it.
posted by teece at 10:19 AM on January 5, 2006

Bias? Rationalization?
posted by wackybrit at 10:19 AM on January 5, 2006

posted by grateful at 10:29 AM on January 5, 2006

"If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail"

This has been called The Golden Hammer Syndrome, Maslow's Maxim, and Baruch's Observation. Those are terms coined by hackers, though, not psychologists.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:02 AM on January 5, 2006

Response by poster: Boy I hate to be a stickler, but I just don't remember asking if anyone had any guesses.

sellout's links come closest to the idea I'm trying to articulate. However, attributional biases seem to be related to perceptions of causality of past events; I'm looking for extrapolation to a general principle.

"I'm good at running. Therefore, [my] running was the key to winning yesterday's game," would be attributional bias. The concept I'm looking for would describe "I'm good at running. Therefore, running is the key to winning baseball games," or conversely, "I'm bad at catching. But catching is not the key to winning baseball games."
posted by jjg at 11:45 AM on January 5, 2006

I don't think false consensus is quite right. The false consensus effect has to do with inaccurately estimating the prevalence of beliefs or attributes among other people, whereas jjg's question was more about inaccurately estimating the importance of certain traits (abilities).

There's also been posited a "false uniqueness effect," which states that for certain traits/abilities, you will actually underestimate their prevalence in others if you yourself possess them. But last time I looked (which was, oddly enough, in a seminar with the author of rsinha's second link), that hadn't been demonstrated as clearly as false consensus.

To put it another way, let's say jjg is great at baserunning and I suck. You ask us both, "what percentage of people are good at baserunning?" The false consensus effect predicts that his answer will be higher than mine; the false uniqueness effect predicts that his answer will be lower. Neither hypothesis has much to say about how we'd answer the question "can a team win the World Series without good baserunning?"

The phenomenon jjg described may have more to do with simple perceptual salience than with attribution. If you're a good hitter but a bad fielder, you tend to pay more attention to the instances in which hitting (good or bad) affects the outcome of a game, and less attention to great catches or fielding errors.

You might also call it egocentric bias, although that would only seem to apply if you're actually playing on the team.
posted by staggernation at 11:56 AM on January 5, 2006

I also thought of egocentric bias, but that has the same problem as self-serving bias - it's concerned with causality in a situation rather than extrapolating a general principle of what's important.

I think the availability heuristic is heavily implicated in what you're describing, even if it's not the precise term for it. The idea is basically that when something is more 'available' to someone (= they have salient, detailed, emotionally charged thoughts about it), they are more likely to overestimate its prevalence. Most of the research on this that I've seen has examined people's probability and frequency judgments, but I bet that it also extends to people's perception of the importance of skills...and skills that you've invested a bunch of time and energy into developing would certainly be very available to you.
posted by introcosm at 12:19 PM on January 5, 2006

If you want to be a stickler, then, I'll go out on a limb. The answer to your question is: No. There is not such a term.

Here's your chance to coin one and become famous.
posted by teece at 12:26 PM on January 5, 2006

Yes, introcosm, the availability heuristic is closer to what I was trying to get at by mentioning salience than that Wikipedia "Salience" article, which turns out to be more about semiotics (sorry).
posted by staggernation at 12:33 PM on January 5, 2006

Response by poster: Here's your chance to coin one and become famous.

It's not all it's cracked up to be.
posted by jjg at 12:43 PM on January 5, 2006

Reading your example, jjg, I immediately thought of this expression. Perhaps your self-selected MVP is wearing mirrored goggles?
posted by rob511 at 2:08 PM on January 5, 2006

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