Cheta (not his real name) a friend and course mate in my university days bragged about how well he wrote his technical report and prepared his PowerPoint presentation for our industrial training attachment defence. He was so sure he would be graded an A and never failed to tell anyone that cared to listen how good he is.
On the day the results were released, low and behold he got a B. Cheta got upset and complained of how well he wrote his experiences during his industrial training and how he doesn’t deserve the B he got, he believed was smarter and was supposed to have a better grade.
This case illustrates the psychological phenomenon called the dunning-Kruger effect. This name was coined in 1999 by psychologists David dunning and Justin Kruger after carrying out their research. The dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias whereby people or persons with low ability believe themselves to be smarter than they really are, I.e. they fail to recognize their own incompetence. The combination of poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability leads them to overestimate their own capabilities.
An insight into the research carried out by David dunning and Justin Kruger
The research by dunning and Kruger were carried out on the basis of grammar, humor and logic, people who scored in the lowest percentile also tended to dramatically overestimate how well they had performed. While their actual test scores placed them in the 12th percentile, they estimated that their performance placed them in the 62nd percentile.
In one of their experiments written in the article titled “unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments”, dunning and Kruger asked their 65 participants to rate how funny different jokes were. Some of the participants were exceptionally poor at knowing what other people would find funny, yet these same individuals described themselves as excellent judges of humor.
Their research shows that incompetent people are not only poor performers but are also unable to accurately assess and recognize their own work just as my friend Cheta did. This is the reason why students who earn failing scores on classwork and exams sometimes feel that they deserve a much higher score. In other words, they inflate their own abilities and are unable to see the poorness of their performance.
Causes of the dunning Kruger effect
There are various causes of this psychological effect. Dunning and Kruger suggests that this phenomenon stems from what they refer to as a “dual burden” that is people are not only incompetent, their incompetence robs them of the mental ability to realize how inept they are.
Overestimation of one’s skill level
According to Kendra cherry, incompetent people tend to Overestimate their own skill levels. Incompetent people are prone to overestimation of their skill set, because they lack the ability to step back and look at how well or badly, they have performed. They are unable to evaluate their skills because of their limited and subjective point of views; hence, they see themselves as highly knowledgeable and superior to others. As Charles Darwin wrote in his book titled “the Descent of man,” ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.
They fail to recognize the genuine skill and expertise of others.
Inept people tend to disregard the skills and expertise of others due to their myopic view. In other words, you cannot give what you don’t have.
They fail to recognize their mistakes and lack of skill
Individuals with this defect do not realize their own mistakes even when its being pointed out to them by others because they always believe that they are right and therefore cannot make mistakes.
Is everyone affected by the dunning Kruger effect?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is a yes. This is so because no matter how skilled or knowledgeable one might be in a particular area, the person cannot be well informed or competent in all other areas as well, in other words no one is an expert at everything. The intelligent are more susceptible to this phenomenon because they believe their immense knowledge in their field of expertise is carried over to other areas. As with the example I cited earlier about Cheta, who believes he is supposed to have an A instead of a B, he failed to realize that though his technical report and PowerPoint slide are good, his presentation of his experiences during the period of attachment is nothing to write home about.
What do genuine experts think of themselves with regards to the dunning Kruger effect?
Dunning and Kruger discovered that individuals with high levels of competence held more realistic views of their skills and knowledge. However, these experts underestimated their own abilities in relation to how others did. This is to say that experts whilst knowing that they are above average, tend not to be fully convinced of their superiority to others because they believe everyone else is knowledgeable.
Overcoming the dunning Kruger effect.
Learning never ends
These three words which are in constant use should guide you. Learn more about topics or subject matters you feel you have mastered. In doing this, you will realize that there is still so much to learn on that topic and this will in turn reduce the tendency to assume you know it all even if you don’t.
This is another way of combating this defect. It involves asking others to vet how well or badly you are doing. Though this is difficult to handle, the responses gotten from these critics will go a long way in aiding you to know how others perceive your abilities. Seek out information that challenges your ideas as this will curb the tendency to focus on things that confirm what you think you already know.
Food for thought
The dunning Kruger effect is one of the many types of cognitive biases that is seen in students in colleges and universities and even among lecturers. Your one ticket to ensuring you stay above this phenomenon as a student is to understand the causes of this psychological bias, work on overcoming them and always remember that anyone can be affected. In all these, study to show yourself approved.