The Dunning-Kruger Effect

dunning-kruger effect

Everyone is talking about it, aren’t they? The term first coined in 1999 seems to have gained massive popularity in the fag end of 2017. I blame this Ted-Ed video. Suddenly, everywhere I turn, I see people nodding and talking about how they have witnessed the Dunning-Kruger effect.

If you have been one of the lucky few who hasn’t stumbled upon this term yet, Dunning-Kruger effect is a scenario where an individual is caught in a bubble of inaccurate self-perception. It affects most individuals on the planet. To quote the authors of the original paper ‘Unskilled and unaware of it’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 meta-cognitive ability to realize it. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in meta-cognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their meta-cognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities. I strongly recommend that you take a look at the 5 minute Ted-Ed video to know more.

But we all knew about the existence of this effect, didn’t we? We have been seeing examples of it since the day that we were born. Now we have a term that describes it. It is wonderful. Except everyone seems to be spotting the existence of the Dunning-Kruger effect in someone else. Just look at the many pieces that have been written on this effect. All of them blame everyone else. I haven’t seen one piece that says – ‘I have been suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect.’ I find that extremely strange. Just for laughs, let’s quote lines from some of the pieces I’ve been reading.

Mark Murphy for Forbes began with an example of Pat, a painfully unaware software engineer. He then goes on to say ‘If you’ve ever dealt with someone whose performance stinks, and they’re not only clueless that their performance stinks but they’re confident that their performance is good, you likely saw the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action.’

David Macaray for Huffington Post wrote – Do conspicuously gifted people—people who are prodigiously and undeniably skilled—go around boasting of their abilities? I can understand them occasionally “showing off” just to confirm or re-establish their creds, but I can’t see them needing to brag about stuff. In other words, it’s hard to imagine Albert Einstein going around telling people that he was “fiercely intelligent.”

I could quote more examples but I’m sure you get the gist. So instead of spotting the Dunning-Kruger effect in the world around you, maybe take a quick look inside. I can assure you that I suffer from the DK effect. I constantly find myself underestimating my ability as compared to others. Did I mention that there exists a corollary to the effect? It says that people of high ability tend to underestimate their relative competence and erroneously presume that tasks that are easy for them to perform are also easy for other people to perform. (P.S: I sincerely hope you see the joke here.)


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