Why I’m awesome: The Dunning-Kruger effect

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Posted by Matthew Stibbe

I have finally found the explanation for irrational overconfidence: the Dunning-Kruger effect. It explains the bombast on the internet and our current political situation.

(Don’t confuse it with the Müller-Fokker Effect. That’s another thing completely!)

I wrote this article a long time ago on the Articulate Marketing blog. It deserves another airing because explains a lot that has going wrong in the world in the last few years.

The science of false self-confidence

The original research says:

People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. … This overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden. Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they [put themselves] in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.

In short, people grossly overestimate their abilities and self-knowledge is a learnable and useful skill. (See my article on how to learn things for the antidote to the Dunning-Kruger effect.)

Genuinely smart people don’t describe themselves as a ‘like, really smart’ and as a ‘genius’, as James Fallows explains. He makes the obvious point that Meryl Streep doesn’t ask ‘Have you seen my awards?’ and Roger Federer doesn’t introduce himself with ‘You know, I’m quite graceful and gifted.’ In fact,  [smart people] ‘know what they don’t know. This to me is the most consistent marker of real intelligence.’

My question is: does knowing your limits help you overcome them better than blithely assuming they don’t exist?

How to choose an agency for your new website

(Thanks to Fencing Bear for finding the original article and Tom at the Writer Underground for linking it to internet bozosity.)