13 June 2017

The Dunning-Kruger effect explained

A hat tip to the elves at No Such Thing as a Fish for bringing this to my attention:
In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias, wherein persons of low ability suffer from illusory superiority when they mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority derives from the metacognitive inability of low-ability persons to recognize their own ineptitude. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence...

Although the Dunning–Kruger effect was formulated in 1999, the cognitive bias of illusory superiority has been known throughout history and identified by intellectuals, such as the philosopher Confucius (551–479 BC), who said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance”; by the playwright William Shakespeare (1564–1616), who said, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool” (As You Like It, V. i.); by the naturalist Charles Darwin (1809–1882), who said, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”; and by the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), who said, “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision...
More at the link, and this example cited by David Dunning as the trigger for his initial publication:
Wheeler had walked into two Pittsburgh banks and attempted to rob them in broad daylight.  What made the case peculiar is that he made no visible attempt at disguise.  The surveillance tapes were key to his arrest.  There he is with a gun, standing in front of a teller demanding money.  Yet, when arrested, Wheeler was completely disbelieving.  “But I wore the juice,” he said.  Apparently, he was under the deeply misguided impression that rubbing one’s face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to video cameras...

If Wheeler was too stupid to be a bank robber, perhaps he was also too stupid to know that he was too stupid to be a bank robber — that is, his stupidity protected him from an awareness of his own stupidity.


  1. I would assume booth sides have that, but out it's particularly evident from your first sentence.

  2. Ignore that grammatical mistake.

  3. You neglected the book of Proverbs, with plenty of contrasts between the foolish and wise (which is more than just intellectual cognition). Such as this one, from 26:12 - "Do you see a person wise in their own eyes?
    There is more hope for a fool than for them."

    I think most of us overestimate ourselves, if the truth is told. Political leaning has nothing to dio with it

    1. I agree. I'd guess that everyone has some area of his or her life affected buy this.

      And up shows up in every piece of literature.

      That juice story is hilarious! I didn't read that far the first time I looked at the article Hopefully the average person doesn't have it that bad.

      Thanks for posting it!

  4. People sometimes complain that the Dunning-Kruger effect is widely misunderstood, for at least two entirely different reasons.

    According to some, the common misconception of the Dunning-Druger effect is a cartoonish exaggeration in which perceived ability is close to inversely proportional to actual ability, whereas in fact it is more subtle as indicated by this graph.

    According to others, the common misconception is that the Dunning-Kruger effect is about _stupid_ people not recognising their stupidity, whereas in fact it's not specifically about intelligence at all but about competence in general.

    My go-to example of the Dunning Kruger effect is that the people who are convinced they know exactly what you're thinking based on a perceived look on your face are often the ones who couldn't be more wrong.

  5. Is this the opposite of the "impostor syndrome," where high achieving people live in fear that one day everyone will find out that they (the high achievers) have no idea what they are doing? These are usually highly intelligent people who do not believe in their own superior intelligence, despite the success they have experienced.

  6. We have a perfect case in point in the person of Mr. Trump. Below are extracts from a recent op-ed signed by David Brooks (a republican!) of the New York Times (May 15, 2017):

    At base, Trump is an infantalist. There are three tasks that most mature adults have sort of figured out by the time they hit 25. Trump has mastered none of them. Immaturity is becoming the dominant note of his presidency, lack of self-control his leitmotif.
    First, most adults have learned to sit still. But mentally, Trump is still a 7-year-old boy who is bouncing around the classroom. Trump’s answers in these interviews are not very long — 200 words at the high end — but he will typically flit through four or five topics before ending up with how unfair the press is to him.
    Second, most people of drinking age have achieved some accurate sense of themselves, some internal criteria to measure their own merits and demerits. But Trump seems to need perpetual outside approval to stabilize his sense of self, so he is perpetually desperate for approval, telling heroic fabulist tales about himself.
    He is thus the all-time record-holder of the Dunning-Kruger effect, the phenomenon in which the incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence.
    Third, by adulthood most people can perceive how others are thinking. For example, they learn subtle arts such as false modesty so they won’t be perceived as obnoxious.
    We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.
    “We badly want to understand Trump, to grasp him,” David Roberts writes in Vox. “It might give us some sense of control, or at least an ability to predict what he will do next. But what if there’s nothing to understand? What if there is no there there?”
    And out of that void comes a carelessness that quite possibly betrayed an intelligence source, and endangered a country.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...