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The Dunning-Kruger Effect

October 9th, 2016 · 2 Comments

David Dunning and Justin Kruger of the department of psychology at Cornell University in 1999 performed experiments measuring how well people evaluated their own competence. The result was that people who knew very little about a topic generally greatly over-estimated their competence, while experts tended to correctly or slightly under-estimate themselves. It was only after being trained on a topic that those lacking skill began to realize their own incompetence.

As Dunning himself put it: “If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent.… The skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.”

Dunning here discusses how this effect applies to Trump supporters, and in fact probably to Trump himself. Trump probably doesn’t understand how grossly unqualified he is for the job. (This article is worth reading.)

This effect is apparent everywhere, and in fact is a major weakness of Democracy. Voters are passionate about their choices, but often based on limited or incorrect understanding of the issues. Many people have strong feelings about economic policies, but really understand almost nothing about economics. Stimulus? Balanced Budget? Deficits? Raising or lowering taxes? Are these things always good or bad, or does it sometimes depend on the situation? People knowing nothing about Climatology are convinced that climate change is a hoax, throwing a snowball into Congress as proof the world is not warming.

I think a reasonable approach is to listen to the experts when they agree, such as with climate change. On a topic such as economics, we should probably go along in the cases where most economists agree, but when the experts disagree it is foolish to be sure you know the right answer.

There are some interesting quotes showing that this is not really a new discovery:
– Confucius “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance”
– Bertrand Russell “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision”
– Charles Darwin “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”
– Shakespeare (As You Like It) “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool”

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Donna // Oct 15, 2016 at 8:54 am

    You and I may be finding more and more common ground in politics, but I don’t know for certain.

  • 2 Dale // Oct 15, 2016 at 9:30 am

    I always realized that the reason I don’t worry about very much solidifies the saying, “ignorance is bliss”.

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