The Dunning-Kruger effect: The incompetent paradox

The Dunning-Kruger effect: The incompetent paradox

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"Much of the difficulties that the world is going through are due to the fact that the ignorant are completely safe and the intelligent are full of doubts."

The previous quotation comes from philosopher Bertrand Russell And psychological research has shown that he was absolutely right.

The Dunning-Kruger effect: our distorted self-perception

According to which individuals with limited skills or knowledge, think exactly the opposite; they are considered more intelligent than other more prepared people, they are certain that they are superior in some way to others, thus incorrectly measuring their ability above the real. This bias or distortion is due to the subject's cognitive inability to recognize their own ineptitude, because his real ability would weaken his own confidence and self-esteem. On the contrary, competent individuals falsely assume that others have a capacity or knowledge equivalent to theirs.

David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University were the ones who studied and described this curious phenomenon, concluding that: "The poor measurement of the incompetent is due to an error about himself, while the poor measurement of the competent is due to an error about others".

These two psychologists conducted a rigorous experiment that was published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in December 1999, and based on the following principles:

  1. Incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own abilities.
  2. Incompetent individuals are unable to recognize true abilities in others.

Both Kruger and Dunning had previously investigated the phenomenon known to psychologists according to which most people tend to value themselves well above the average, when it is statistically impossible: thus, it is hardly understandable that 98% of University professors, according to one study, are convinced that it works better than others.

To test these hypotheses, the researchers recruited a group of psychology students who had to complete a series of tests of logical thinking, grammar and humor. The researchers then showed them the scores they had obtained and asked them to estimate what position they could have reached in the general table. The final results were really revealing:

  • The brightest students, far superior to their peers, estimated that they were below.
  • Mediocre students they were considered above average
  • The overly bad students they were convinced to be among the best: in fact, the more useless the individual was, the more certain he was that he did things well.

This experiment was repeated four more times, and the same results were always obtained. Speaking in statistical terms, the students who by the obtained scores were between 12% of worse qualification, self-classified within what would be 62% better. Meanwhile, people with real knowledge tend to underestimate their competence. Thus, the most incompetent, according to Dr. Kruger, suffered a double grievance: “Not only do they reach wrong conclusions and make unfortunate decisions, but their incompetence prevents them from realizing it." In any case, and as noted frequently, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a reaffirmation of Charles Darwin's old maxim: “Ignorance breeds more confidence than knowledge”.

Fortunately, a later study suggests that the most incompetent students improve both their level of ability and their ability to estimate their position in the rankings, only after having received many classes in skills they did not have. Therefore, the proposed solution to this cognitive bias would be that the incompetent should be told, directly, that he is incompetent.

Later, in 2004, researchers from Columbia University confirmed that the Dunning-Kruger effect not only applied to the areas of intellectual abilities but also in motor areas, interpersonal skills and communication.

Positive side and negative side of the Dunnig-Kruger effect

The worst of all this is not only how uncomfortable and irritating a person who has the Dunning-Kruger effect can be, but his incompetence also leads him to make wrong decisions and, as if that were not enough, prevents him from realizing it. Another aggravating factor that adds to this cumbersome effect is that incompetent people have probably been receiving all kinds of comments about it for years, but it has never taken effect. So, despite the many comments and of probably spoiling tasks in their work often, the incompetent do not yet believe they are incompetent.

The positive side of all this is that, according to some detractors of the Dunning-Kruger effect, the fact overestimate our own abilities It can be an indicator of psychological well-being. So you know, if you suffer from this effect, you may be incompetent, but fortunately you will be satisfied with yourself and your achievements.