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.
So a strategy that might have come about because of a desire to avoid being hoodwinked morphs into the conviction that everyone is trying to hoodwink you. While I understand why someone would want to avoid the former, especially if (s)he's fallen prey in the past, assuming everyone is out to get you is not only the lazy way out, it's factually wrong.
You know, I think that's one of the most important things I've learned from all the traveling I've done; that everywhere you go, there are good people and bad, kind people and unkind, and that regardless of differences of culture the vast majority of us want the same things -- food, shelter, security, love, safety for our families and friends, the freedom to voice our opinions without fear of repercussions. The number of people I've run into who really, honestly had ill intent toward me (or toward anyone) were extremely few.
I'll admit, though, that maintaining a healthy, balanced skepticism is hard at times, especially given the polarization of the media lately. We are very seldom presented with a fair assessment of what's happening, especially insofar as what the opposite side is doing. Much of the media is devoted to whipping up hatred and distrust of the "other" -- convincing listeners/readers that the opposite party, the other religion(s), the other races or ethnic groups, are unequivocally bad. Presenting the more complex, nuanced view that there are a few horrible people in every group but that most people are on balance pretty okay, takes a lot more work -- and doesn't attract sponsorship from the corporations who are profiting off the fear, panic, and anger.
It's nice that the Stavrova and Ehlebracht paper supports what I've been claiming for years. And I'd like to ask you to make a practice of this -- setting aside your preconceived notions and what you've heard from the media, simply looking at the facts and evidence rather than the spin. I think you'll find that the world is neither the Pollyanna paradise that the gullible believe nor the horrid hellscape in the cynics' minds, but somewhere in that wide middle ground.
And that honestly, it's a much better place to live than either extreme.