To Thyself Be True? Not Always

Self-deception — lying to yourself — is generally a bad idea, but occasionally can be put to good psychological use, researchers say.

The Wall Street Journal reported July 30 that people who believe they are smarter or talented than they really are can actually benefit because their self-confidence can fool others into believing their self-assessment. Researchers say that self-deception is a very common — if little understood — part of human nature, practiced to boost self-esteem and happiness or deal with problems and challenges.

Studies have shown that “positivity bias” — the belief that you are smarter than you actually are — begins as early as age 3. Of course, self-delusion also can have quite serious negative consequences, such as when an overly positive self-image trumps the self-discipline you need to go on a diet when you are overweight.

“A little bit of self-deception isn’t an unhealthy thing, a lot is an extremely unhealthy thing,” says researcher Michael I. Norton, an associate professor at Harvard Business School.

(Photo © Rick Bradley via Flickr)