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Ah, to be ignorant of your own ignorance... Today I learned that there is a psychological term for people who don't know stuff but are too incompetent to realize it and, therefore, suffer from an illusion of superiority. And what's weird is that it works in the reverse, too (i.e., highly skilled people suffer from an illusion of inferiority). Darwin was right - ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.


The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to realize their mistakes.[1] The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their own abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority. This leads to the situation in which less competent people rate their own ability higher than more competent people. It also explains why actual competence may weaken self-confidence. Competent individuals falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. "Thus, the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others."[2]

The Dunning-Kruger effect was put forward in 1999 by Justin Kruger and David Dunning. Similar notions have been expressed - albeit less scientifically - for some time. Dunning and Kruger themselves quote Charles Darwin ("Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge")[3] and Bertrand Russell ("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."[4][5]). W.B. Yeats put it concisely thus: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." The Dunning-Kruger effect is not, however, concerned narrowly with high-order cognitive skills (much less their application in the political realm during a particular era, which is what Russell was talking about.[6]) Nor is it specifically limited to the observation that ignorance of a topic is conducive to overconfident assertions about it, which is what Darwin was saying.[7] Indeed, Dunning et al. cite a study saying that 94% of college professors rank their work as "above average" (relative to their peers), to underscore that the highly intelligent and informed are hardly exempt.[4] Rather, the effect is about paradoxical defects in perception of skill, in oneself and others, regardless of the particular skill and its intellectual demands, whether it is chess, playing golf[8] or driving a car.[4]

Dunning-Kruger effect

What did you learn recently?


Original posting by Braincrave Second Life staff on Feb 1, 2011 at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=454

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