Personality Type and the Satisfaction of Feeling Superior

In your own opinion, even if you would never admit it out loud, do you feel like you’re better than other people – and do you secretly enjoy it?

As it turns out, most people do.

When we asked our readers to agree or disagree with the statement, “Deep down, you enjoy feeling superior to others,” more than two-thirds of them agreed. Ours is far from the first study to reveal that most people perceive themselves as being better than the average person, a phenomenon known as the “self-enhancement effect.”

A recent study conducted at the University of London, for instance, found this self-enhancement effect to be most pronounced when it came to moral characteristics: participants overwhelmingly rated themselves as more honest, fair, trustworthy, and virtuous than the average person. The researchers pointed out that, although not necessarily rational, this human tendency is, to a certain degree, normal.

Our survey went a step further, though, in asking readers whether they enjoy feeling superior, and the results revealed some definite divisions between personality traits, most notably between Thinking and Feeling types.

What is it about our personality type that makes most of us not just feel superior to others, but relish that feeling too? Let’s break down the results below.

Roles

Analysts (85% agreeing)

The Thinking trait was by far the most influential factor in whether our readers agreed that they enjoy feeling superior to others, with Thinking personality types (81%) agreeing at a rate 22% higher than Feeling types (59%). Because Analysts push aside emotion and empathy in favor of logic, it’s easy for them to take their observations of other people to their (seemingly) logical conclusions.

An Analyst might think: I earned the highest score on the exam, so I must be the smartest student in my class. That may not be a fair or accurate conclusion, but to Analyst personality types it can be enough to justify their own superiority, and to take pleasure in it. After all, in their minds, top academic performance could land them a highly competitive job with a top-paying salary, and why shouldn’t they feel good about that?

Oftentimes with less mature Analysts, the “deep down” qualifier in our statement is irrelevant – they’re more than happy to come right out and let others know how much better they are, in ways that can come off as abrasive, overbearing, and condescending.

Of all the personality types, Turbulent Commanders (90%) were the most likely to agree that they like feeling superior to others, followed closely by Turbulent Debaters (89%). Strong-willed as they are, Commanders may base much of their authority on a sense of superiority. In their minds, no one is better qualified than they are to lead the way and get things done, and these personalities thrive off of that confidence.

Debaters, for their part, love a good argument, not to mention the satisfaction that comes from winning, or in other words, from demonstrating their superiority.

Diplomats (64%)

It might be surprising to see that Diplomats – the idealistic peacemakers of the Roles – were the second most likely to agree with our statement. How can Diplomat personality types be the altruists they’re said to be when they enjoy feeling superior to others?

The Intuitive trait is the key to this apparent paradox, a trait that Diplomat personalities share with Analysts. Although we may base our judgments of others on observable facts, like exam scores, when we can, how often do we have actual evidence regarding less tangible characteristics, like virtuousness or trustworthiness?

Most likely, we’re using our imagination to form judgments, picking up on minor cues and reading between the lines to make connections, and perhaps even letting our mind get carried away. That’s exactly how Intuitive personality types see and process the world every day, so it’s understandable that they were 12% more likely than Observant types to agree that feeling superior to others gives them a sense of satisfaction.

In their natural roles as counselors and harmonizers, Diplomat personalities find it rewarding to help others, but part of that reward may lie in an affirmation that they’re needed and that they’re good at solving other people’s problems. Diplomats’ feelings of superiority may be rooted not in condescension, but something more like relief. A Diplomat might come home from consoling a troubled friend and think, Wow, at least I’m not experiencing any of those problems. It’s good to know that I’m doing so well. My life looks great by comparison.

It’s also important to keep in mind that our survey didn’t ask about acting superior to others – it asked our readers to be honest about how they feel on the inside. You might not see a Diplomat gloating about their amazing abilities, but that doesn’t mean that Diplomat personality types are immune to enjoying feelings of superiority, at least occasionally, even if they would never admit it out loud.

Explorers and Sentinels (62% and 59%)

Since the Explorer and Sentinel Roles encompass both Thinking and Feeling personality types, their responses were quite divided. Virtuosos (78%), for instance, were far more likely to agree than Adventurers (54%).

But all Explorers and Sentinels are Observant types, and that made their overall agreement lower. For Analysts and Diplomats, it’s second nature for their Intuitive trait to kick in and start forming judgments. Observant personality types, in contrast, like to stay grounded in reality and focused on the present. As such, they’re less interested in constantly comparing themselves to others, and they prefer not to jump to conclusions about others without solid evidence. For Sentinels, especially, that ability to remain impartial is what makes them so effective in roles as governors, judges, and administrators.

Assertive Consuls (40%) were the least likely personality type to say they enjoy feeling superior to others, followed by Assertive Defenders (41%). Consuls and Defenders are both known for putting others’ needs and happiness before their own. For these kind, sensitive types, being superior to other people just isn’t the point – their energy is focused on helping lift others up so that the whole community can work better together.

Strategies

Social Engagement and Constant Improvement (75% and 68% agreeing)

The Identity trait was another important factor in our survey: Turbulent personality types were 12% more likely to agree than Assertive types. The Turbulent members of the Social Engagement and Constant Improvement Strategies are always thinking about how they can improve, and as such, they tend to have self-esteem issues and to require more external validation than Assertive personalities do.

It’s not very often that Social Engagers and Constant Improvers consider themselves superior to someone else, so when it happens, it can feel like a great ego boost, one that they might as well enjoy while they can. Social Engagers’ fluctuating self-esteem coupled with their constant concern over their social status can be a serious source of stress; simply striving to be their own personal best, as Constant Improvers do, may not be enough. Without knowing that someone is below them in the pecking order, these personality types may feel that their position is inherently precarious. That’s likely why Social Engagers agreed at the highest rate – for them, perceived superiority equals social security.

People Mastery and Confident Individualism (60% and 58%)

The Assertive trait that defines the People Mastery and Confident Individualism Strategies makes these personality types less likely to agree with our statement. Particularly confident People Masters and Confident Individualists may actually regard their own superiority as a simple matter of fact. They know where their strengths lie, and they don’t need to go boasting about them or to stroke their own egos. As such, they don’t crave feelings of superiority as often, or take as much pleasure in them, as Turbulent types do.

Conclusion

There is a fine line between a healthy sense of competition, the kind that drives personal development and greater innovation alike, and a potentially destructive need for self-aggrandizement. Some personality types may have a harder time negotiating this line than others.

Those with the most difficulty may be Turbulent Analyst types, fueled by a deep-seated need not just to be the best at what they do, but to continuously get better at it too. And while this drive can propel them to astonishing heights of success, it can also be off-putting to others, and incredibly stressful to themselves.

But even personality types who are less likely to dwell on their own superiority or inferiority sometimes take pleasure in believing themselves to be better than others. It’s human nature, and to a certain extent, it’s healthy to take pride in your strengths and your achievements – but it’s just as important to stay humble and to remember what really matters in life.

What about you? How do you handle feelings of superiority? Let us know in the comments below!

You can see the full set of data, including correlation coefficients, here. Please also consider participating in our Member Surveys!

1 week ago
Before I started reading this article, my first thought was that feelings of superiority originate from our personal values. Honesty, loyalty, strength, kindness, efficiency, knowledge, etc. We all believe our own values are the best. If we didn't, we wouldn't have chosen them, right? I tend to think we compare ourselves to other people based on a chosen set of values. For example, a person who is very honest and kind may look at someone who is exceptionally efficient and knowledgeable and think to themselves, "you are not as honest or kind as I am therefore you are inferior to me." It would be hard not to think this way. It's just the nature of values. As such I expected diplomats to be high on the list. Sentinels being low is also not surprising, based on my experiences with sentinels I my own life, they hold humility as one of their highest virtues and believe deep down that they are no better than anyone else. Anyways, that's my analysis. I thought I'd share. =P I'm an ENTJ-A
2 weeks ago
"Particularly confident People Masters and Confident Individualists may actually regard their own superiority as a simple matter of fact. They know where their strengths lie, and they don’t need to go boasting about them or to stroke their own egos" That's exactly how I feel, I'm impressed by the accuracy of this assessment. Extra Note: I love the inclusion of links to additional information on the topics discussed in an article, they're a great opportunity for learning more about psychology.
2 weeks ago
I agree that we ENTPs, we really do love the feeling of superior, we always think we are the best and we are always right, which can be a pro and a con.
2 weeks ago
As an INFJ-T, I am constantly comparing myself to others (most of the time to strangers whom I've never seen before). I have to admit, it's an exhausting and burdensome habit that causes unwanted stress and anxiety yet I can't seem to stop. As a result I often feel worthless and horrible about my existence because I can only see the good sides of other people. On the rare occasion where I do feel superior to someone, I cherish it deeply and use it as a opportunity to remind myself that I may not be as inferior as I feel.
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