“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”
The quote above comes from the philosopher Bertrand Russell.
Psychological research has now shown he was right.
The effect has been:
“…replicated among undergraduates completing a classroom exam (Dunning, Johnson, Ehrlinger, & Kruger, 2003), medical students assessing their interviewing skills (Hodges, Regehr, & Martin, 2001) clerks evaluating their performance (Edwards, Kellner, Sistrom, & Magyari, 2003), and medical lab technicians evaluating their on-the-job expertise (Haun, Zeringue, Leach, & Foley, 2000).” (From Ehrlinger et al., 2008)
The reason for the Dunning-Kruger effect seems to be that poor performers fail to learn from their mistakes.
The proposed solution is that the incompetent should be directly told they are incompetent.
Unfortunately the problem with the Dunning-Kruger effect is that incompetent people have probably been getting this type of feedback for years and failed to take much notice.
Despite failing exams, messing up at work and irritating other people, the incompetent still don’t believe they’re incompetent.
As Socrates once said:
“The only true wisdom is to know that you know nothing.”
But even this can go too far.
It turns out that people with real talent tend to underestimate just how good they are.
The root of this bias is that clever people tend to assume other people find things as easy as they do, when actually this is their talent shining through.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Helga Weber
→ This post is part of a series on cognitive biases:
- The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Why The Incompetent Don’t Know They’re Incompetent
- The Worse-Than-Average Effect: When You’re Better Than You Think
- Why You’re a Sucker for the Impact Bias
- The Hindsight Bias: I Knew It All Along!
- How to Overcome the Egocentric Bias
- See How Easily You Can Avoid The Memory Bias
- 4 Belief Biases That Can Reduce Pleasure
- Does Delaying Decisions Lead to Better Outcomes?
- The Belief in a Just World: A Fundamental Delusion
- Why Society Doesn’t Change: The System Justification Bias
- The Availability Bias: Why People Buy Lottery Tickets
- The Illusion of Transparency
- The Illusion of Control: Are There Benefits to Being Self-Deluded?
- The Endowment Effect: Why It’s Easy to Overvalue Your Stuff
- Illusory Correlations: When The Mind Makes Connections That Don’t Exist
- Anchoring Effect: How The Mind is Biased by First Impressions
- The Confirmation Bias: Why It’s Hard to Change Your Mind
- The Well-Travelled Road Effect: Why Familiar Routes Fly By
- How a Psychological Bias Makes Groups Feel Good About Themselves And Discredit Others
- The Sobering Up Effect: Why People Get More Pessimistic As The Moment of Truth Gets Closer