You probably suffer with the Dunning-Kruger Effect
Have you ever watched an episode of X-Factor, in the early rounds where people are auditioning, and someone comes on the screen and you play the game of “is this person going to be good or terrible?”
The camera focuses on them as they prepare to sing, they take a breath, and the most terrible noise comes out of their mouth. So bad that the programme editors cut to the judges table and you see mouths open wide, followed by sly grins.
Depending on how he’s feeling, Simon Cowell either lets them go on to the end (because he sees what good TV it is) or he cuts them off quickly (so he doesn’t have to put himself through it).
The judges give their verdict.
“It’s a no from me”
“I’m sorry, thanks for auditioning”
“Please don’t waste any more time singing. You can’t”
And then the contestant goes ballistic. Shouting at the judges about how good they are. How they’ve been singing for years. How their cats love their singing.
These people suffer from the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
Now, you may not think you’re the world’s best singer, but somewhere in your life, you’ll have a blind spot, which means you think you know best / are the best and others who point out the fact that you don’t are wrong.
This is the Dunning-Kruger Effect in your life.
What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter or more capable than they are in reality.
Essentially, it’s when low ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence, and it’s this combination of poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability that leads them to a point where they overestimate their own capabilities.
The effect is named after researchers David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the two social psychologists who first described it in their original study, brilliantly titled “Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.”
The researchers found, that incompetent performers are not only poor performers, but they are also unable to accurately assess and recognize the quality of their own work.
This is the reason why X-Factor contestants think they can sing and should be put through to the next round.
This is the reason why students who earn failing scores on exams sometimes feel that they deserved a much higher score.
This is why you hear lots of stories of bungling criminals, and why some US Presidents might say “With the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president that’s ever held this office.”, when they turn out to be a one term president.
What causes the Dunning-Kruger Effect?
Dunning and Kruger suggest that this phenomenon comes from what they call a “dual burden”, where people are not only incompetent, but that their incompetence denies them the mental ability to realize just how incompetent they are.
They say, incompetent people tend to:
- Overestimate their own skill levels
- Fail to recognize the genuine skill and expertise of other people
- Fail to recognize their own mistakes and lack of skill
It’s like the fact that the knowledge and skills you need to be good at a task are the exact same qualities that you need to recognize that you’re not good at that task. Which means, if you don’t know what good likes like, how can you tell your not good?
Do I really suffer from the Dunning-Kruger Effect?
Unfortunately, yes, but don’t worry too much.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is not synonymous with low IQ, and everyone is susceptible.
A brilliant scientist might be a very poor writer, and despite their PhD they still need to possess a good knowledge of things such as grammar and composition. If they don’t have that, then they might technically be a poor writer, whilst at the same time thinking that they are a good one.
Now you know about it, you’ll probably spot it with your colleagues round the office.
The person who thinks they’re funny, but they’re not.
The person who always thinks errors are the fault of someone else, when it fact it’s them.
Can I do anything about it?
Dunning and Kruger suggest that as your experience with a subject increases, then your confidence will typically decline to more realistic levels. As you learn more about the topic of interest, you begin to recognize your own lack of knowledge and ability. Then as you gain more information and actually become an expert on a topic, your confidence levels begin to improve once again.
So you should keep practicing, and studying, and over time you’ll figure out what you need to do in order to be good at something, and you’ll be able to judge where you sit on the journey to successfully mastering whatever it is.
Some amazing Dunning-Kruger Effect examples
Hijackers who wouldn’t listen to the pilot when he told them there wasn’t enough fuel to fly to their new destination. The hijackers knew that the plane could hold enough fuel to fly from Ethiopia to Australia, but didn’t entertain the fact that due to the fact the plane was only due to fly from Ethiopia to Kenya that it didn’t have a full fuel tank. The plane ditched into the sea, killing 125 people. More info
A bank robber who believed rubbing lemon juice on his face who make him invisible to security cameras — One day in 1995, a large, middle-aged man robbed two Pittsburgh banks in broad daylight. He didn’t wear a mask or any sort of disguise. Later that night, police arrested a surprised McArthur Wheeler. When they showed him the surveillance tapes, Wheeler stared in disbelief. “But I wore the juice.”. He was working under the belief that as lemon juice can be used as invisible ink it could make him invisible.