The Dunning–Kruger Effect – Do Stupid People Know That They Are Stupid?

Dunning Kruger Effect

You must have pondered it, at least, a dozen times, right? Does this person know how dumb they are? It is quite possible that answer is no. They have no idea. Not only that but perhaps they even believe they are decidedly smarter than anyone will give them credit for. This seemingly rampant behavioral phenomenon is referred to as the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.” -Socrates.

Socrates stated it long before anyone had a label for it. It may even make you wonder if it is, in fact, you who is the intellectually inefficient one. Even so, one thing remains true, we know stupid when we see it. The question is why? Why are they so stupid?

What is the Dunning–Kruger effect?

If you are a regular reader of psychology or cognitive science blogs (who isn’t?), you may have already read about the now infamous Dunning –Kruger effect. Dunning–Kruger effect is a genuine cognitive bias that refers to the seemingly pervasive tendency of people who perform their jobs poorly to overestimate their abilities while the higher performers underestimate their abilities.

David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University did multiple experiments on their research, which were mainly focusing on cognitive tasks such as grammar, logic and evaluating humor. Even so, there are many other disparities that also exist in other areas. For example, in self-assessment of IQ, those people above average underestimated their score and those who are below average tend to overestimate theirs. Other research on healthy and unhealthy behaviors found that they get errors and bad data when they rely on self-reporting. This is because the test subjects always try to improve their evaluation (cheating).

According to the experiments of Kruger and Dunning, incompetent people fail to learn from their mistakes and believe they are best. Despite failing exams, irritating other people, messing their work, incompetent people still don’t think that they are incompetent. Instead of changing their working strategy they still believe they are excelling at the assigned task. The Dunning-Kruger effect also suggests that people with real talent tend to underestimate how good they are. The two researchers found that the root of this bias is that bright people assume that other people find things as easy as they do, without realizing that the simple way in which they handle tasks is in fact a tremendous talent.

As Socrates once said, “The only truth is to know that you know nothing.” Dunning – Kruger is actually based on this principle and mainly studies ignorance induced arrogance. This means that maybe paradoxically, the more a person knows about a subject, the more they get to understand that there is still more to learn and the less a person knows about a certain subject, the more arrogant they become thinking that they know everything about the subject. Have you every witnessed this?

Origin of the Dunning–Kruger effect

The Dunning- Kruger effect was tested in a series of experiment in 1999 by both Justin Kruger and David Dunning of the department of psychology at Cornell university. After testing the theory, two researchers proved its existence with a research paper titled “Unskilled and unaware of it” that won the 2000 satirical lg Nobel Prize in psychology. The original research was focused on competence as opposed to intelligence. The two researchers experiments were focused on determining the measurable factors of how well a person is able to perform a task (whether simple or stupid tasks) and how a person perceived his competence in performing the task. Kruger and Dunning wanted to prove that individuals that believe they are better at a task than they are, generally lack intelligence or enough education.

Examples of the Dunning-Kruger Effect

  1. McArthur Wheeler from Pittsburg Covered his face with lemon juice and attempted to rob a bank. Wheeler had learned that one could use lemon juice as invisible ink. “Magicians” use this trick for children by using lemon juice to write on a piece of paper and then heat it making the words appear. After learning this, wheeler believed that unheated lemon juice would make his face to disappear and become unrecognizable. After he was caught, he expressed sincere surprise and lack of understanding why the video surveillance captured his image.
  2. It has also been reported that American students have the lowest scores in math but have high levels of confidence that they outscore all the other nations.
  3. Jimmy Kimmel often proves the effect with his “Lie Witness News” segment on his show. People believe the band Contact Dermatitis is up and coming and that Bill Clinton ended the Korean War. Many of the more confident participants seemingly believe that they are correct showing just how far some people will go to “act” smart, without the slightest awareness that it nearly proves their lack of knowledge.

Video Presentation of the Dunning-Kruger Effect:

It seems that the population affected by the Dunning-Kruger effect continues to grow. Do your best to be understanding, humble, and informative so that you may do your part in stopping the spread of stupid people who don’t know they are stupid. Everyone will be better off because of it.


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