Posted in Psychology

Ugly Duckling Syndrome

For this week’s blog, I will be writing on Ugly Duckling Syndrome, of which there are two definitions. The first definition is one that we are all familiar with which is a “person, especially a child, who turns out to be beautiful or talented against all expectations”. A prime example is Matthew Lewis who plays Neville Longbottom from the Harry Potter Series

Matthew Lewis (right) 2001, and Matthew Lewis Left (2015)

The second definition created by Stanford University describe what they call the Duckling Syndrome as “a person who appears calm, cool and collected externally, but internally they are stressed, frantic and uneasy.” With both of these definitions, they revolve around the same cognition effect known as Illusion of Control.

The illusion of control is the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events.  People who express illusory control believe that they have control over different aspects of their life, but this mindset is overestimated. This effect can be viewed in both a positive light or negative dimness.

When somebody shows a lack of illusion of control or real life control they underestimate the amount of control that they have on their lives, believing their life choices are fixed. This can lead to an increased chance of mental illness such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD); they try to compensate with reactions of anxiety, compulsive behaviors,  and destructive eating habits in order to establish some control whether it be illusory or actual.

With a lack of illusion of control, some people can have body image and beauty issues, which can lead to low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and have the belief that beauty is and body image is fixed. This is where the Ugly Duckling syndrome appears because only when you remove the illusion of control and believe that beauty and body image are malleable, is when control is gained, which is when transformations from an ugly duckling to a swan happens, or from a caterpillar to a butterfly. The result was this removal of illusory control can be reflected in their appearance, self-esteem, and confidence.

But what happens when you overestimate the amount of control you actually have?  You would think that you would have the opposite result but in actuality, it can lead to similar results such as increased stress, and mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and OCD. This is because when you have overestimated the amount of control, it can result in pursuing unrealistic goals and use harmful behaviors to reach their goal. where over time having unrealistic goals can hurt your self-esteem and confidence as you strive to reach impossible goals and fail. this is especially true with body image and appearance. For individuals who have an unrealistic goal of beauty or and ideal body image, they might use harmful methods or procedures like surgeries or unhealthy eating habits that lead to eating disorders to obtain unrealistic standards. A prime example of having such unrealistic beauty standards is Justin Jedlica.

Justin Jedlica has spent over $100,000 on plastic surgery, as he believed that he had control over his body as a form of expression, and he modeled his Ken doll as wanted his body and his lifestyle.

This leads to the discussion about what is the right amount of control?

For this week’s photograph is a photo that I took in Calgary at Globalfest. These two Brazilian dancers who appear to be happy, confident women who are comfortable in their own body on the outside, but from this photo we can’t determine what experiences or issues drive these two gorgeous women, and these two women and the ducks in the duck syndrome both have feathers which can express their personality, and emotions.

So with that being said, instead of trying to be an ugly ducking or a Barbie doll: Be a Flamingo in a flock of pigeons; be unique, and true to yourself.


Announcements: (2017). Retrieved February 5, 2017, from
Burkley, M., Burkley, E., Stermer, S. P., Andrade, A., Bell, A. C., & Curtis, J. (2014). The ugly duckling effect: Examining fixed versus malleable beliefs about beauty. Social Cognition32(5), 466–483. doi:10.1521/soco.2014.32.5.466
Hoorens, V., & Buunk, B. P. (1993). Social comparison of health risks: Locus of control, the Person-Positivity bias, and unrealistic optimism1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology23(4), 291–302. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1993.tb01088.x
Illusion of control (2017). . In Wikipedia. Retrieved from
Novovic, Z., Kovac, A., Djuric, V., & Biro, M. (2012). Positive and negative affect in illusion of control. Psihologija45(4), 395–407. doi:10.2298/psi1204395n
Reuven-Magril, O., Dar, R., & Liberman, N. (2008). Illusion of control and behavioral control attempts in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology117(2), 334–341. doi:10.1037/0021-843x.117.2.334
US weekly Magazine. (2016, April 20). Meet 7 real-life Barbie and Ken Dolls. Retrieved February 8, 2017, from

5 thoughts on “Ugly Duckling Syndrome

  1. Hey Kassie! I really enjoyed listening to your talk in class, it had be thinking about our self- esteem, body image and how it affects our quality of life. If we are always concerned with our appearance or how we are portraying ourselves do we really have control over our life? Or has the control gone to our conscious and working towards a unrealistic goal like the case of Justin. I found an article that studied peoples body images and how it affected their quality of life. The results of the study show that body image has a huge impact on quality of life in all the dimensions they tested.

    If we can be positive in how we view ourselves we can embrace being a flamingo in a flock of pigeons.

    Nayir, T., Uskun, E., Volkan Yurekil, M., Devran, H., Celik, A., & Azim Okyay, R. (2016). Does body image affect quality of life?: a population based study. PLoS ONE 11(9): Retrieved from:

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In this article it’s related to sports and self confidence that we read for one my of KNES classes. It was really interesting that self-confidence in an athlete is directly influenced by both internal and external factors, both negative and positive. However, those interviewed could recall instances of negative experiences in more detail, suggesting that self-confidence requires constant attention in order to be maintained. In other words, an athlete has to continuously work on their self-confidence, lest they let occasional poor outings affect their overall performance.
    Same could be said about life in general, I think it’s important to self reflect and remember what we love about ourselves.

    Hays, K., Thomas, O., Butt, J., & Maynard, I. (2010). The development of confidence profiling for sport. The Sport Psychologist 18, 373-392.


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