The Lake Wobegon Effect on Facebook

I just happened to see the results of this poll on Facebook, and was amused by such a clear example of the Lake Wobegon Effect in action (click for readable size):

The Lake Wobegon Effect on Facebook

If you haven’t heard of this psychological phenomenon, here’s the Wikipedia entry:

The Lake Wobegon effect is the human tendency to overestimate one’s achievements and capabilities in relation to others. It is named for the fictional town of Lake Wobegon from the radio series A Prairie Home Companion, where, according to Garrison Keillor, “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

This survey was particularly resonant, given my regular public confessions of my shite taste i music.


  1. This is not a clear example of the Lake Wobegon Effect at all, unless you think that musical taste can be quantifiably judged in a practical fashion.

    In other words, I’m a big fan of string quartets. I think my taste in picking good quartet recordings is pretty good. This doesn’t stop my Metallica-loving co-workers from being discerning choosers of heavy metal.

    Michael’s example of self-assessment of driving skill is much better, since there’s some pretty obvious metrics (at-fault accidents, lap times on a pre-set course…) that can be used to measure driving skill, and we’re not all above average on that scale.

    Would rather not think about my driving-skill percentile,

  2. Ryan’s point about musical taste not being empirically measurable is a good one, but if you’re talking about an entire population, you don’t need to be able to measure it (or even know what “it” is) in order to conclude that the statement “74% of the population are above average” is self-contradictory, and therefore false.

    If we’re comparing Facebook users to the world as a whole, then I guess it’s different, but comparing Facebook users to each other, only half of them can be above average at any single trait, regardless of whether it’s verifiable which half any one person actually belongs in.

  3. Yesbut, the confounding issue is that with musical taste, it’s not really determinable if the musical taste of all people can be usefully compared on a scale.

    Sure, there’s an element of self-delusion here, but there’s also an element of unjudgability.

    Not for nothing do we have the saying “there’s no disputing taste.”

  4. Ryan’s wrong, Matt’s right.

    Also this result can be explained by selection bias without the need for any lake whatsits effects.

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