WaPo – What’s behind the confidence of the incompetent?


  • Someone who has very little knowledge in a subject claims to know a lot
    • This phenomenon has a name: the Dunning-Kruger effect
  • it is present in everybody to some extent
  • 1999 paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Dunning and Justin Kruger put data to what has been known by philosophers
    • Socrates said “the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.”
    • Darwin in 1871 with “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”
    • incompetent people think they know more than they really do, and they tend to be more boastful about it
  • Time after time, no matter the subject, the people who did poorly on the tests ranked their competence much higher … in the 1999 paper by Dunning/Kruger
  • Dunning and Kruger’s results have been replicated in at least a dozen different domains: math skills, wine tasting, chess, medical knowledge among surgeons and firearm safety among hunters
  • Dunning-Kruger “offers an explanation for a kind of hubris,”
  • If you’ve ever felt confident answering questions on an exam, only to have the teacher mark them incorrect, you have firsthand experience with Dunning-Kruger.
  • Dunning says the effect is particularly dangerous when someone with influence or the means to do harm doesn’t have anyone who can speak honestly about their mistakes
    • “You get into a situation where people can be too deferential to the people in charge,”
    • “You have to have people around you that are willing to tell you you’re making an error.”
  • Dunning’s follow-up research shows the poorest performers are also the least likely to accept criticism or show interest in self improvement.

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