I Came Face to Face with the Dunning-Kruger Effect Today

Overly confident people who have no clue what they’re talking about.

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“Are you a globalist?” she asked me with a look on her face that would better match the question, “Do you club baby seals?”

First, I’ve never stopped to consider if I’m a “globalist” or not.

Second, I didn’t know it’s some sort of dirty word.

So I must have looked perplexed.

That’s when she began to tell me how “globalists” want to cull the human population, so they’ve invented a massive torpedo type thingy that can create waves big enough to destroy entire coastal cities, bringing all the concrete down to dust.

When I objected that that sounded scientifically implausible and that it’s a conspiracy theory, she looked upon me with pity as if I just would never get it.

That got me thinking about the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is when a person is incompetent in an area but doesn’t recognize their incompetence, and in addition, they boast about how expert they are.

They think they know it all while the people around them shake their heads in bewilderment.

Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions, and get bad results; their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.

They don’t have enough understanding or awareness to know that they aren’t that knowledgeable or good at something.

They don’t know what they don’t know, and they don’t recognize that that’s even possible.

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: It is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

Charles Darwin

Dunning and Kruger studied this phenomenon in 1999. You can see their study here, if you’d like.

They studied people using examinations in mathematics, grammar, and logical reasoning.

They found that people scoring in the 12th percentile self assessed their performance at about the 62nd percentile.

The researchers ultimately concluded that these people had a hard time distinguishing accuracy from error.

On top of inflating their own expertise or skill, these people were less willing to accept that they were wrong or made a mistake.

Dunning’s follow-up research showed the poorest performers were the least likely to accept criticism or show interest in self improvement.

Pointing out the facts, making corrections, or telling them they’re wrong doesn’t usually get anywhere constructive.

Improving a person’s skills and increasing their ability to tell fact from fiction does help them begin to recognize the limits of their own abilities.

I once worked with a woman who argued with the entire office that the lyrics to Feliz Navidad are “feliz la-dee-da.” We couldn’t convince her otherwise.

We can just laugh it off as a silly quirk when it’s a song lyric, but what about when it’s your surgeon, your tax accountant, your pilot, or your president?

The Dunning-Kruger effect explains why some people come off as over-confident braggards when their skills are poor.

It explains why people who know nothing about science can be so certain that climate change doesn’t exist.

It explains why more than 90 percent of the faculty at the University of Nebraska rated themselves as above average.

It explains why we all think we’re better drivers than everyone else out there.

It’s the reason I never automatically trust the loudest person in the room to lead the group..

Is it a mental illness? A personality disorder?

It was labeled by Dunning and Kruger as a cognitive bias.

A cognitive bias is an individual’s created subjective perception of reality. The biases deviate from the norm or from rationality in judgment.

To a degree, we all exhibit the Dunning-Kruger effect at various times.

Like any cognitive bias, it can manifest in extreme ways in some people and mildly in others.

Learning about cognitive biases helps you recognize when you’re falling into their traps.

Of course, if the Dunning-Kruger effect is strong in you, you’re certain this is all bullshit, and you know that you’re right.

But for the rest of you, you can learn about some common cognitive biases here: Challenge These 15 Distorted Thoughts To Get Ahead In Life we all have them

In the meantime, keep learning, keep exploring, keep questioning.

“The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.”


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Cross posted at and Change Your Mind Change Your Life

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