Dunning-Kruger Effect: A Cognitive Bias That Makes Novices Think They’re Experts

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Dunning-Kruger Effect: A Cognitive Bias That Makes Novices Think They’re Experts

Dunning-Kruger Effect is the failure to assess ones level of competence / Photo by Ion Chiosea via 123RF


In 1999, two Cornell psychologists discovered a cognitive bias that makes people believe that they are more competent than they actually are. It is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, named after David Dunning and Justin Kruger. The concept was introduced in their study Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.

MMweekly.com defines the Dunning-Kruger Effect as a phenomena wherein “people fail to adequately assess their level of competence--or specifically, their incompetence at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than everyone else.” Since they do not know that they are incompetent, this makes them even more incompetent, which prevents them from being able to properly reflect on their performance. As a result, this causes them to overestimate themselves.

The Dunning-Kruger effect can have a great influence on how they make decisions, how they act and what they believe in. An example of this demonstrated in a study conducted by Dunning and Erlinger showed that men and women both had good scientific skills based on their scores on a science quiz. However, the female participants did not rate their performance well because they assumed they had lesser scientific abilities. Due to this, women may be hesitant to join a science contest.

Why Does It Happen?

According to Verywellmind, three things cause a person to overestimate their abilities which are: not being able to identify their lack of abilities and their mistakes, not having metacognition and knowing little information about a topic which causes them to be overconfident.

Being incapable of identifying their mistakes and lack of skills

Not having enough skills or abilities can make a dual burden, Dunning states. One of these problems is that it makes them work inefficiently in the area they are incompetent in. The other is that their wrong and inadequate knowledge keeps them from being able to see their flaws.

Lack of metacognition

Those who fail to see their incompetence may not metacognition or the capacity to evaluate oneself from another person’s point of view. Most individuals are only able to assess themselves within a limited scope and an extremely subjective perspective. In their own point of view, they know better than others, have supreme abilities and are generally exceptional.

Knowing some information which makes them overconfident

In some cases, knowing a little information about a particular topic can cause a person to believe they know everything about the topic. For instance, they may know some information about architecture but they already believe that they are as good or maybe even better than the professional architect.

It is also mentioned that heuristics can also be one of the reasons. Heuristics is explained as “mental shortcuts” that helps a person immediately make a choice. It is also the inclination to search for patterns that are not there.


Anyone can be affected by Dunning-Kruger Effect as no one is good at everything / Photo by Viorel Sima via 123RF


Dunning and Kruger’s Study

For their experiment, Dunning and Kruger tested their participants in three fields which were grammar, logic, and humor. Forbes states that they observed that the participants who scored below average rated their own performance and skills too highly.

During the humor test, they told 65 participants to evaluate how funny their jokes were. The participants who were bad at recognizing what others considered funny thought of themselves as very humorous.

In the grammar test, they were instructed to finish a grammar exam with 20 items. When they had finished the exam, they were instructed to evaluate their capacity to determine grammatically correct standard English in comparison to the other participants. Those who were revealed to have poor grammar abilities as shown in their tests, thought that they were ranked among the top three


Beating the Dunning-Kruger Effect

Everyone can be affected by the Dunning-Kruger Effect because no one can be good at everything. Even when people have experience and are knowledgeable in specific subjects, they still have areas where they lack skills and knowledge.

“We are all engines of misbelief,” Dunning declares.

People can take measures to help them correctly evaluate their skills and competence such as:

Continue learning and practicing

They must continue learning about a specific subject and practicing what they learn. In order to know more about a topic, they must explore more about it. To more information they learn about the subject, the more they will realize that they still have much to learn about it. This keeps them from thinking they are already experts on the subject.

Asking other people’s opinion of their skills

They can also ask others for feedback. When other people provide them with constructive criticism, they can gain more awareness of how others see their skills.

Challenging beliefs and expectations

Challenging their beliefs and expectations may also help them improve the judgment of their abilities. Receiving feedback and gaining more knowledge may not be enough to have a more realistic evaluation of themselves. Doing can still make it possible for them to concentrate on ideas they presume that they know. However, if they search knowledge that challenges what they know, it can help them step back and reflect on how much they actually know.




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