In one of our recent online qualitative research studies, 29 out of 30 people claimed they expected to pay less under a service providers’ new performance-based pricing model. Nearly all therefore, felt they were better than the ‘average’ person. These 29 people were by no means recruited to reflect above averages performers. No, this was a blatant example of the better than average effect, otherwise known as ‘illusory superiority’. A bias we had run into in the past, but rarely so blatantly.
In this project, the Upwords team was helping our client:
a) optimize language explaining changes that would impact the price people would pay for their services
b) ensure people who used the service understood the reasons for the change.
Through an iterative online qualitative design, the findings successfully guided the client’s communications team to explain the changes with clarity and confidence. At the very end of our study, we asked this question:
‘What do you think these changes will mean for you personally’?
This simple question was critical in helping us understand how the changes were internalized. The responses revealed that almost all felt their performance had been better than average, therefore they would pay less. So while customers felt they understood the changes and thought they were ‘fair’, we identified that some customers would be surprised when they find out they are in fact not better than average and therefore would be paying more.
The Better Than Average Effect:
The better than average effect is an interesting phenomenon. Mathematical laws tell us that we surely all cannot be above average. Yet study after study indicates that most North Americans rate themselves better than most people. It’s not just the ‘average’ person that does this. Convicted prisoners, in comparing themselves to other inmates rated themselves as more moral, trustworthy, honest, dependable, compassionate, generous, and law-abiding among other traits. Convicted prisoners even rated themselves better than the average non-prisoner on these traits, except for law-abiding…which was the trait they on which they rated themselves as equal to the average non-prisoner!
Some More Examples:
After completing the project, other examples of how this phenomenon has appeared in our work came to mind.
- Alcohol drinkers think they now know how to ‘handle’ their booze (unlike when they were younger)
- Cannabis users think they’re ‘better’ than most at completing daily tasks, and are not putting themselves (or others) in danger
- People rate themselves higher than average for making ‘healthy choices’ only for us to find out in mobile studies that they are in fact making unhealthy choices more often
- People think they are safer drivers or boaters or bike riders than the average person putting themselves potentially at risk of injuries
We can’t avoid bias. As marketers and market researchers we simply need to be aware of all sorts of biases and consider the impact they might have.
Have you run into the better than average effect in your work or research? What impact has it had? We’d love to hear about other examples.