Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

The Social Psychology of Biased Self-Assessment

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

The Social Psychology of Biased Self-Assessment

Article excerpt


Unbiased self-knowledge is critical for professionals who routinely make life and health altering decisions. (1-5) Indeed, Standard 4.1 of the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education Standards 2016 and Domain 4 of the Center for the Advancement of Pharmacy Education (CAPE) outcomes addresses it directly: The graduate is able to examine and reflect on personal, knowledge, skills, abilities, beliefs, biases, motivation, and emotions that could enhance or limit personal growth. Several lines of research in clinical education, however, suggest that both students' and clinicians' self-knowledge is often biased. (6-14) The goal of this review is to demonstrate that completely unbiased self-knowledge is neither attainable nor desirable, because bias is deeply engrained, and because the mechanisms that cause bias occur below awareness. (15) Consequently, this review also demonstrates that interventions that help students function despite their self-knowledge biases are more effective than interventions that attack the biases directly. While this position seems defeatist, it is also realistic. On this point, 50 years of social and cognitive psychological research is virtually unanimous. (15)

Consequences of Biased Self-Assessment

Before entertaining solutions to a problem, one should assess its extent. Hence, this manuscript reviews common situations in which peoples' estimates of their character, abilities, or future prospects are more optimistic than reality warrants. One of the most common manifestations of biased self-knowledge is weak correlations between ability estimates and actual performance. For example, only seven out of 20 papers in a meta-analysis of practicing physicians' self-assessment accuracy reported a moderate positive correlation between physicians' self-assessment and their performance; the remaining papers reported either non-significant or negative correlations. (16) Similarly, a review by Mabe and West found an average correlation of 0.29 between self-assessments and external standards. (17) Correlations were lowest for vague abilities associated with ambiguous or delayed feedback--0.04 for managerial ability and 0.17 for interpersonal ability--and highest for concrete abilities associated with prompt feedback--0.47 for athletics. (17) Other studies have examined intelligence (r=0.20), (18) academic ability (r=0.35), (19) and workplace performance (r=0.20). (20) To date, few studies have found a strong or even moderate relationship between self-assessment and actual ability.

Like knowledge of one's abilities, knowledge of one's traits is imperfect. (21) The Big Five personality inventory, an instrument that classifies respondents in terms of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, only correlates with related behaviors at (r=0.34) when the behaviors are performed in a laboratory and (r=0.27) when the behaviors are performed outside of a laboratory. (22,23) In one of the most thorough investigations of the relationship between self-reports and behavior, researchers asked participants to wear an electronic recorder for several days to capture the linguistic and behavioral correlates of traits that they rated in a previous session. The average correlation between self-reports and behavior was a modest (r=0.27). (24) Another way to examine self-knowledge is to determine whether one's personality descriptions align with reports made by members of his/her social circle. Again, several meta-analyses indicate that self-ratings are weakly to moderately aligned with others' ratings. (25) The Big Five correlates with others' ratings at about (r=0.45) while the California Adult Q-Set correlates with others' ratings at (r=0.27). (26-29) Whether using actual behavior or others' ratings as accuracy criteria, the message is consistent: people's self-knowledge is imperfect.

Weak correlations between self-assessment and performance demonstrate that people misestimate their abilities. …

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