More on the Dunning-Kruger cognitive bias

| November 6, 2010 | 12 Replies

Over the past year, this website has published several posts discussing the Dunning-Kruger cognitive bias, and for good reason. The Dunning-Kruger effect is the cognitive bias that naturally comes to mind whenever one thinks of America’s tumultuous politics. It especially comes to mind when one considers the rise of the American “Tea Party,” notable for producing politicians who are factually clueless but oblivious to this fact. That combination is the essential nature of the Dunning Kruger phenomenon, as described by Wikipedia:

Kruger and Dunning noted earlier studies suggesting that ignorance of standards of performance is behind a great deal of incompetence. This pattern was seen in studies of skills as diverse as reading comprehension, operating a motor vehicle, and playing chess or tennis.  Kruger and Dunning proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:

1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
4. recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they can be trained to substantially improve.

I thought it worthwhile to raise this topic of Dunning-Kruger again tonight, and to further note that in 2005, David Dunning published a book on the Dunning-Kruger effect called Self-Insight: Roadblocks and Detours on the Path to Knowing Thyself. You can read the first chapter of Dunning’s book online at this link. Here are a few excerpts:

[From page 8]

The notions people have about their skills and knowledge are far from perfect indicators of their actual proficiency… Impressions of skill are somehow decoupled from reality-perhaps not completely but to an extent that is surprising.… People who are incompetent are often not in a position to know that they are incompetent. Judgment of self is an intrinsically difficult task, and the incompetent just do not have the tools necessary to meet this difficult challenge, nor should the rest of us expect them to.

[Space 12]

In 1914, Babinski coined the term now used, anosognosia, to describe these cases in which people are physically or neurologically impaired, sometimes grossly, yet fail to recognize the death or even the existence of their impairment… I take the notion osanosognosia and transfer it, by analogy, from the neurological and physical realm to the cognitive and psychological one.

[Page 13]

It is not that people performing poorly fail to recognize their incompetence. Instead, our argument is that people performing poorly cannot be expected to recognize their ineptitude. They are simply not in a position to know that they are doing badly.   The ability to recognize the death of their inadequacies is beyond them.… They are doubly cursed: in many areas of life, the skills necessary to produce competent responses to the outside world are also the exact same skills needed to recognize whether one acted competently. . . the skills needed to perform the cognitive task . . . are the same exact ones necessary for metacognitive (judging the response).

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Category: Politics, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich and his wife, Anne Jay, live in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising their two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (12)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Charles Darwin: "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”

    - Bertrand Russell

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    “Only fools are positive.”
    Moe Howard (1897 – 1975)

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    “Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.”

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930), (Sherlock Holmes) Valley of Fear, 1915

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    “A wise man never knows all. Only fools know everything.”
    African Proverb

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”

    ~ Charles Bukowski

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    “Conceit is God’s gift to little men.”

    Bruce Barton

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    The ignorant have an answer for everything.

    Mardy Grothe

  9. Erich Vieth says:

    “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s own ignorance.”
    Confucius

  10. Erich Vieth says:

    “Wisdom tends to grow in proportion to one’s awareness of one’s ignorance.” Anthony de Mello.

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