Put Away The Bell Curve: We aren’t ‘Average’

Most people are below average! Human performance is often not distributed according to the famous ‘bell curve’ or ‘Gaussian’. Instead, a small number of people vastly outperform the rest. A new study shows that in 186 out of 198 groups ranging from physics professors and Grammy nominees to cricketers and swimming champions, a small group of ‘superstars’ account for much of the success of the group as a whole. That means the majority are performing below the mathematical average – or to be precise, the ‘arithmetic mean’.

This should not be depressing news, but it does mean that blindly modelling people’s behavior using a bell curve is a bad idea. So is expecting that ‘average’ means ‘typical’.

Listen the story from NPR:


If you want details, read the original paper – it’s free online:

Ernest O’Boyle and Herman Aguinis, The best and the rest: revisiting the norm of normality of individual performance, Personnel Psychology 65 (2012), 79–119. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1744-6570.2011.01239.x/full


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