Lake Wobegon Effect and Normal Distribution

Gary Edward Keillor is an American author and radio personality. In his radio show Keillor created the fictional Minnesota town called Lake Wobegon, a small rural town in central Minnesota ( similar to Malgudi town of RK Narayan). He described it as “the little town that time forgot, and the decades cannot not improve.”. In Lake Wobegon “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” 

Psychologist David Myers coined a term “Lake Wobegon Effect”. The Lake Wobegon effect is a natural tendency to overestimate one’s capabilities and see oneself as better than others.

While normal distribution may predict that very few people in given sample are above average, Lake Wobegon Effect shows that more than 90% of people feel that they are above average.

Chip Heath is psychologist from Stanford Business School and an author, he and his brother Dan have written book called “Switch” in which they say that…

  • Only 2% of high school seniors believe that their leadership skills are below average.
  • 25% of people believe that they are in the top 1% in their ability to get along with others.
  • 94% of college professors report doing above-average work.
  • People believe that they are at lower risk than peers for heart attacks, cancer, and even food-related illnesses, like salmonella.

This also explains why management students think that they can revolutionize corporate world, CEOs justify their salaries, politicians make tall claims etc. It is Lake Wobegon Effect.


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