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What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect

Cognitive misconceptions lead to several psychological effects. One of them is the Dunning-Kruger effect. The following article will tell you more about this effect.
PsycholoGenie Staff
If you think you have a fabulous voice, and feel that you can easily make it to the top 5 of American Idol, I say go ahead, give the auditions, chase your dreams. If you feel that you can run the country in a better way, and end its misery, then go contest elections, and become the president! If you try, nothing is impossible for you!

Wait a minute, before you begin to think this is some kind of motivational article, let me make something clear, I asked you to audition for American Idol, and to contest elections, so that you can realize where you stand in the real world because, may be, you might be a victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Preconceived notions about your intellect and ability can lead to blunders. You can obviously learn from your experiences, and become better, but sometimes you fail to realize that the blunders were caused due to your incompetence.

In 1999, David Dunning and Justin Kruger (they were in Cornell University then), gave the world the "Dunning-Kruger Effect". By this effect, they highlighted how people, in general, are unable to estimate their true potential. While some overestimate themselves, others underestimate their ability. We shall discuss this effect in two parts.

In the Incompetent
People who are not actually skilled, usually tend to have a superiority complex. The problem with them is that, they do not realize that their incapability can lead to disastrous decisions. The effect does not end here, in addition to the incompetence, these people never learn from their mistakes, as they lack the capability of cognitive reasoning, to understand that their mistake led to the disaster. They do not live in a state of denial, but in a state of unawareness. They are not able to assess themselves correctly, due to their lack of knowledge. Charles Darwin rightly says,

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge".

In the Competent
Skilled people with higher cognition, often underrate themselves. Please do not confuse it with inferiority complex, as these people have the knowledge, and the ability to take good decisions, but they are short of self-confidence. They often tend to overestimate the capability of "others", and thus when they compare themselves with "others", they feel that they are average, but in reality they might be superior to "others". As the competent overrate the ability of the people around them, they tend to be carefree in problematic situations. They have a prejudice that everyone will be able to deal with the problem. Even with the vast knowledge that they possess, the competent feel that they know less. The following lines by Socrates, rightly express the mentality of the people who are truly skilled:

"I know that I know nothing".

Consider the following examples:
  • You see a candidate giving a speech filled with words that the common man cannot comprehend.
  • You find thousands of "talented" people, auditioning for shows like America's Got Talent.
In the first example, you find a candidate (who is apparently skilled!) overestimating the ability of the people listening to him, and feel that they will understand all the jargon that he uses. This shows the Dunning-Kruger effect in the competent. In the second case, you find many people who believe that they have the potential to win the show, but are ignorant of their lack of skill to actually make it to the top! The Dunning-Kruger effect among the incompetence is seen in this example.

Apart from these, there are many other examples which show that this effect is so much a part of the human nature. So, the next time you feel that someone is superior or inferior to you, introspect; just to make sure that you are not influenced by this effect.