Most People Are Actually Below Average

Reach back into the deep recesses of your mind and recall the bell curve from that statistics class.

That Gaussian distribution is what most people think when they measure human performance (be it a school test or athletic performance). The bell curve posits that most of us are average, with a few extremely good and a few extremely bad people.

It turns out, however, that is wrong: most of us are actually well below average:

The bell curve powerfully shapes how we think of human performance: If lots of students or employees happen to show up as extreme outliers — they're either very good or very bad — we assume they must represent a skewed sample, because only a few people in a truly random sample are supposed to be outliers.

New research suggests, however, that rather than describe how humans perform, the bell curve may actually be constraining how people perform. Minus such constraints, a new paper argues, lots of people are actually outliers.

Human performance, by this account, does not often fit the bell curve or what scientists call a normal distribution. Rather, it is more likely to fit what scientists call a power distribution.

NPR's Morning Edition explains: Link

Image: Remember Half the People You Know Are Below Average T-Shirt from the NeatoShop


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It's not that most people are below average; a power curve describes a situation where the group results are skewed by a small percentage of people contributing substantially more than most.

In short, those smarty-pantses, super athletes, grammy hogs, and smooth talking politicians are making the rest of us look bad on paper.

Or everyone's stupid, whatever helps you feel more smug.
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The article almost sounds like Elihu Goldratt's "Theory of Constraints"

I think your #s matter less sometimes than people think.

I'm at least 1 in 900 and I feel stupid and slow every day of my life.
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It is a bell distribution with exactly 50% above/below average. Yet, if you look into it, you will find that 80% of people consider themselves to be above average. You will also find that one of the more common coping strategies for dealing with low-skill is to claim that there are just a few super-geniuses who inexplicably offset the data to make the rest of us look bad. Or sometimes the belief in the actual data is equated with being conceited. Sociologist Erwing Goffman may have said that people want everyone to be equal so they don't feel like anyone is being left-out or disproved of, so he called this the "rule of considerateness", and that is probably why you can't have data that shows most people are stupid, or even that half the people are stupid, because they want to believe that there are these outliers with everyone in the middle being relatively "normal". Of equal social value.

See, for example: The Curse of the Self by Mark R Leary
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this isn't how bell curves work. if the majority is "below average" than they are graphed at the center of the curve because they are the majority. average is just that the basic majority. if we are all much more stupid that previously thought, or getting more stupid, than below average is just average.
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