The cynical genius illusion: Exploring and debunking lay beliefs about cynicism and competence

O. Stavrova*, Daniel Ehlebracht

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
64 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Cynicism refers to a negative appraisal of human nature—a belief that self-interest is the ultimate motive guiding human behavior. We explored laypersons’ beliefs about cynicism and competence and to what extent these beliefs correspond to reality. Four studies showed that laypeople tend to believe in cynical individuals’ cognitive superiority. A further three studies based on the data of about 200,000 individuals from 30 countries debunked these lay beliefs as illusionary by revealing that cynical (vs. less cynical) individuals generally do worse on cognitive ability and academic competency tasks. Cross-cultural analyses showed that competent individuals held contingent attitudes and endorsed cynicism only if it was warranted in a given sociocultural environment. Less competent individuals embraced cynicism unconditionally, suggesting that—at low levels of competence—holding a cynical worldview might represent an adaptive default strategy to avoid the potential costs of falling prey to others’ cunning.
Keywords cynicism, competence, lay theories, social perception
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)254-269
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Volume45
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Keywords

  • ASSOCIATION
  • ATTRACTION
  • COGNITIVE-ABILITY
  • DECISION
  • EDUCATION
  • ERROR MANAGEMENT
  • HOSTILITY
  • PERSONALITY
  • PHILOSOPHIES
  • SOCIAL AXIOMS
  • competence
  • cynicism
  • lay theories
  • social perception

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