If you're a professional golfer, for example, you have some information to rely on because you have been rated professionally, she points out. But if you're a weekend duffer, you really don't have anything to go on other than guesswork.
So Tiger Woods has more than his own self assessment to base his judgment on. As the No. 1 golfer in the world, he has good reason to believe that he has a chance of winning every tournament he enters, as the golf announcers tell us so often. But of course he doesn't win them all, so even his global standing doesn't guarantee that his expectations are reliable.
For the rest of us, it's even tougher, because we have fewer facts. And if we don't have anything other than guesswork to guide us, chances are we're going to wind up on a killer horse. Or at least playing some guy who's on his way to the Hall of Fame.
That's the point of the whole study, Burson says. It's aimed at people in marketing, and they need to know that when a potential customer describes his or her own abilities, it might be worth while to ask a few more questions. Chances are, the pigeon is guessing.
And like so many other studies, it reminds us once again that we don't know ourselves as well as we think we do.
Lee Dye’s column appears weekly on ABCNEWS.com. A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.