Dunning-Kruger Effect

We probably have all heard of the ”Peter Principle”, or “The Generalized Peter Principle”:  Anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails. It was created almost 50 years ago by Laurence J. Peter, a prominent Canadian scholar of education.  When applied to a person this is sort of inwardly looking where someone outside makes a judgment on someone else’s performance.  But there is another principle or effect where a person makes a judgment on his or her own performance.

The following is abstracted largely from “Pacific Standard, The Science of Society”. I will suppress my urge to relate the following to most politicians.

The opening line is: “The trouble with ignorance is that it feels so much like expertise.”

The Dunning-Kruger effect, named after David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University, Department of Psychology, occurs: Where some people fail to adequately assess their level of competence — or specifically, their incompetence — at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than others. This lack of awareness is attributed to their lower level of competence robbing them of the ability to critically analyze their performance, leading to a significant overestimate of themselves.

The underling premise is basically that many people (dumb to smart) over estimate their ability because they are too dumb (at whatever level on the scale) to see when they are failing: The Dunning-Kruger Effect, which Wikipedia defines as “a cognitive bias whereby unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate.” Wikipedia added that: “This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude.”  Whew…..I’m not sure I can follow all of that!!!!

The phenomenon was first tested in a series of experiments published in 1999 by David Dunning and Justin Kruger.  The study was inspired by the case of McArthur Wheeler, a man who robbed two banks after covering his face with lemon juice in the mistaken belief that, because lemon juice is usable as invisible ink it would prevent his face from being recorded on surveillance cameras.

…….I could never make that up.

In many cases incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.

For more than 20 years Dunning and Kruger have researched people’s understanding of their own expertise.  This is formally known as the study of metacognition, the processes by which human beings evaluate and regulate their knowledge, reasoning, and learning.  The results have been consistently sobering and occasionally comical.

The American author and aphorist William Feather once wrote that being educated means “being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.” As it turns out, this simple ideal is extremely hard to achieve. Although what we know is often perceptible to us, even the broad outlines of what we don’t know are all too often completely invisible. To a great degree, many people fail to recognize the frequency and scope of their ignorance.

In many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize or cannot recognize just how incompetent they are. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack.  What’s curious is that in many cases incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.

Because it’s so easy to judge the ignorance of others, it may be sorely tempting to think this doesn’t apply to one’s self. But the problem of unrecognized ignorance is one that can visit us all from time to time.

Over the years Dunning and Kruger have become convinced of one key, overarching fact about the ignorant mind: “One should not think of it as uninformed. Rather, one should think of it as misinformed.”

An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that’s filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors, and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge.

This clutter is an unfortunate by-product of one of our greatest strengths as a species. We are unbridled pattern recognizers and profligate theorizers.  As the humorist Josh Billings once put it, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” (Ironically, one thing many people “know” about this quote is that it was first uttered by Mark Twain or Will Rogers—which just ain’t so.)

The way we traditionally conceive of ignorance—as an absence of knowledge—leads us to think of education as its natural antidote. But education can produce illusory confidence.  Because it’s so easy to judge the idiocy of others, it may be sorely tempting to think this doesn’t apply to yourself. But as said above, the problem of unrecognized ignorance is one that can visit us all.

“I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, do not fancy that I do.  In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser then he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know”….

Attributed to Socrates from Plato.

 

Boy, do I feel ignorant!!!!!

 

RO

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