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The Dunning-Kruger effect, sound like someone you know?

 
 
Reply Mon 2 Mar, 2020 01:40 am

The Dunning-Kruger effect, or why the ignorant think they’re experts.

To err is human. But, to confidently persist in erring is hilarious.
by Alexandru Micu
February 13, 2020

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool,” wrote Shakespeare in As You Like It. Little did he know, but this line perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias first highlighted in literature by David Dunning and Justin Kruger in the (now-famous) 1999 study Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.


The study was borne from the shenanigans of one McArthur Wheeler who, in the broad daylight of a sunny April 19, 1995, decided to rob two saving banks in Pittsburgh. Wheeler carried a gun, but not a mask. Surveillance cameras recorded him in the act, and the police put his picture up in local news, receiving multiple tips almost immediately.

When they went to perform the arrest, Mr. Wheeler was visibly confused.

“But I wore the juice,” he managed, before officers carried him away.

There’s no such thing as ‘foolproof’

At one point in his life, Mr. Wheeler learned that lemon juice can be used as an ‘invisible ink’. Write something down on a piece of paper using lemon juice and you won’t see a thing — until you heat it up, making the scribblings visible. So, naturally, he covered his face in it and went to rob a bank, confident that his identity would remain secret to cameras as long as he didn’t come close to any sources of heat.

Still, credit where credit is due: Mr. Wheeler wouldn’t go out on blind faith. He actually did test out his theory by taking a selfie with a polaroid camera (there’s a budding scientist in all of us). For some reason or another, maybe the film was defective, we don’t know exactly why, the camera did return a blank image.


The news made the rounds, everybody had a good chuckle, and Mr. Wheeler was wheeled off to jail. The police concluded that he wasn’t crazy or on drugs, he actually believed his plan would work. “During his interaction with the police, he was incredulous on how his ignorance had failed him,” wrote Anupum Pant for Awesci.

David Dunning was working as a psychologist at Cornell University at the time, and the bizarre story caught his eye. Enlisting the help of Justin Kruger, one of his graduate students, he set out to understand how Mr. Wheeler could be so confident in a plan that was plainly stupid. The theory they developed is that almost all of us view our abilities in certain areas as above average and that most are likely to assess our skills as being much better than they objectively are — an “illusion of confidence” that underpins the Dunning-Kruger effect

“If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent,” Dunning wrote in Self-Insight: Roadblocks and Detours on the Path to Knowing Thyself.

“The skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.”

In the 1999 study (the first they carried out on the topic), the duo asked undergrads at Cornell a series of questions about grammar, logic, and humor (these were used to gauge the students’ actual skills) and then asked each to estimate the overall score they would achieve, and how that related to the scores of the other participants. The lowest-ranking students, they found, consistently and substantially overestimated their own ability. Students in the bottom quartile (lowest 25% by score) thought that they out-performed two-thirds of the other students on average (i.e. that they ranked in the top 33% by score).

A follow-up study that the authors carried out at a gun range showed similar results. Dunning and Kruger used a similar methodology, asking hobbyists questions about gun safety and to estimate how well they performed on the quiz. Those who answered the fewest questions correctly also wildly overestimated their mastery of firearm knowledge.

It’s not specific only to technical skills but plagues all walks of human existence equally. One study found that 80% of drivers rate themselves as above average, which is literally impossible because that’s not how averages work. We tend to gauge our own relative popularity the same way.

It isn’t limited to people with low or nonexistent skills in a certain matter, either — it works on pretty much all of us. In their first study, Dunning and Kruger also found that students who scored in the top quartile (25%) routinely underestimated their own competence.

A fuller definition of the Dunning-Kruger effect would be that it represents a bias in estimating our own ability that stems from our limited perspective. When we have a poor or nonexistent grasp on a topic, we literally know too little of it to understand how little we know. Those who do possess the knowledge or skills, however, have a much better idea of where they sit. But they also think that if a task is clear and simple to them, it must be so for everyone else as well.

A person in the first group and one in the second group are equally liable to use their own experience and background as the baseline and kinda just take it for granted that everyone is near that baseline. They both partake in the “illusion of confidence” — for one, that confidence is in themselves, for the other, in everyone else.

But perhaps not equally clueless

To err is human. But, to confidently persist in erring is hilarious.

Dunning and Kruger did seem to find a way out of the effect they helped document. While we all seem to be equally likely to delude ourselves, there is one key difference between those who are confident yet unable and those able yet lacking in confidence — how we deal with and integrate feedback into our behavior.

Mr. Wheeler did try to check his theory. Yet, he looked at a blank polaroid he just shot — a pretty big giveaway that something didn’t work out properly — and saw no cause for concern; the only explanation he accepted was that his plan worked. Later, he receives feedback from the police, but this in no way shape or form manage to diminish his certainty; he was “incredulous on how his ignorance had failed him” even when he had absolute confirmation (being in jail) that it did fail him.

During their research, Dunning and Kruger found that good students would better predict their performance on future exams when given accurate feedback about the score they achieved currently and their relative ranking among the class. The poorest-performing students would not change their predictions even after clear and repeated feedback that they were performing badly. They simply insisted that their assumptions were correct.

Jokes aside, the Dunning-Kruger effect isn’t a failing on our part; it’s simply a product of our subjective understanding of the world. If anything, it serves as a caution against assuming we’re always right and highlights the importance of keeping an open mind and a critical view of our own ability.

But if you’re afraid that you might be incompetent, you could check by seeing how feedback affects your view on your own work, knowledge, skills, and how that relates to others around you. If you truly are, you won’t change your mind and this process is basically a waste of time but fret not — someone will tell you you’re incompetent.

And you won’t believe them.


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Type: Discussion • Score: 13 • Views: 4,616 • Replies: 141

 
izzythepush
 
  1  
Reply Mon 2 Mar, 2020 05:04 am
@coluber2001,
Sounds like the guy who wrote Empress Theresa.

0 Replies
 
jespah
 
  2  
Reply Mon 2 Mar, 2020 07:57 am
Kinda the reverse of D-K is when people become better at a task and then doubt themselves (impostor syndrome). Essentially, they think their work is crap, but it's only because they better know what good work looks like.
coluber2001
 
  2  
Reply Mon 2 Mar, 2020 12:07 pm
@jespah,
"...Dunning and Kruger also found that students who scored in the top quartile (25%) routinely underestimated their own competence."
coluber2001
 
  2  
Reply Mon 2 Mar, 2020 12:13 pm
@coluber2001,
Trump seems to be stuck on the left, an expert on everything.
https://realizebeauty.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/dunning-kruger-effect-agile-coffee-web.jpg
0 Replies
 
rosborne979
 
  2  
Reply Mon 2 Mar, 2020 02:31 pm
@coluber2001,
coluber2001 wrote:
The Dunning-Kruger effect, sound like someone you know?

Unfortunately it sounds like almost everyone I know. And I'm having a hard time ruling myself out as well.
coluber2001
 
  2  
Reply Mon 2 Mar, 2020 03:17 pm
@rosborne979,
Yeah, tell me about it. But we don't make a profession out of it, like some president I know.
0 Replies
 
Sturgis
 
  2  
Reply Mon 2 Mar, 2020 03:22 pm
@coluber2001,
Quote:
...scored in the top quartile (25%) routinely underestimated their competence.


Possibly were up there, due to lack of self-belief. Because of that, they invest more time and effort towards study.
0 Replies
 
bobsal u1553115
 
  3  
Reply Mon 2 Mar, 2020 03:30 pm
@coluber2001,
Oralloy and his sock, coldjoint.
Setanta
 
  3  
Reply Mon 2 Mar, 2020 05:45 pm
From the thread title, the author wrote:
. . . sound like someone you know?


Heavy irony here--when I first saw this thread this morning, I was dealing with three members who seem to suffer from this syndrome. I'm not going to name any names, we have enough flame wars here as it is.
livinglava
 
  1  
Reply Mon 2 Mar, 2020 06:34 pm
@Setanta,
Setanta wrote:

From the thread title, the author wrote:
. . . sound like someone you know?


Heavy irony here--when I first saw this thread this morning, I was dealing with three members who seem to suffer from this syndrome. I'm not going to name any names, we have enough flame wars here as it is.

What do you do about confirmation bias in believing that ridicule is valid?

The 'poison skittles' effect coined by Trump applies to ridicule as well as racism/xenophobia. I.e. if someone isn't confident about their own ability to critically assess a line of reasoning, they are more likely to trust ridicule as a reason for dismissing something/someone than to question the ridicule as being baseless.

So basically idiots can get away with demonizing intelligent people when readers aren't critically-sound enough to study an explanation/argument on its own merit.

E.g. if I say 2+2=4 and someone else calls me an idiot who's never studied math and doesn't know what I'm talking about, then unless a reader can think critically enough about my explanation that they can overcome the confirmation bias toward the ridicule, then they would just assume I'm wrong because some other people said so.

Overcoming confirmation bias toward ridicule requires the ability to question ridicule itself, which is like standing up to a bully. No one wants to stand up to a bully because it's easier, safer, and more comfortable to just avoid the conflict.
maxdancona
 
  2  
Reply Mon 2 Mar, 2020 08:31 pm
@Setanta,
Setanta wrote:

From the thread title, the author wrote:
. . . sound like someone you know?


Heavy irony here--when I first saw this thread this morning, I was dealing with three members who seem to suffer from this syndrome. I'm not going to name any names, we have enough flame wars here as it is.


It is a funny thing.... Everyone sees how Dunning-Kruger applies to other people. No one sees how it applies to themselves. I guess that's the point.
maxdancona
 
  0  
Reply Mon 2 Mar, 2020 08:53 pm
@livinglava,
You earn ridicule when you pretend to have knowledge of science and then say ridiculous things that prove you don't understand what you are talking about.

The point of the Dunning-Kruger effect is that it takes time and effort to develop expertise in a field. People, such as yourself, who haven't studied science are confident they know what they are talking about. People who have actually studied science and developed expertise see that what they are saying is nonsense.

The issue is expertise.
farmerman
 
  3  
Reply Tue 3 Mar, 2020 05:32 am
@maxdancona,
who the hell pays for this kind of ****??
Everything I know about Dunning Krueger Ive read in PEOPLE magazine. Ive never ever seen an article in Nature or even Amrican SCholar.

Could it be that the whole concept is just one big April Fool joke gone haywire back in the 80's (when evrybody was praying to seedpods)??

0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Tue 3 Mar, 2020 06:48 am
I don't know, I found the argument compelling. I have a great interest in science, but I claim no expertise, other than in reading and reporting what I've read. I do claim an at least modest knowledge of history (primarily the history of Europe and North America) and in literature, both of which I studied in university. I have kept up, and expanded my knowledge of those subjects. Sometimes, history coincides with science, and climate change is an excellent example of such convergence. In univesrity, we were taught about the "climactic optimum" (this was in the 1960s), which is now, at least popularly called the Medieval Warm Period (well la-di-da!). That was followed by the little Ice Age (as climatologists called it). Historians pointed out that there had been just such a deep cooling event before the climactic optimum, which climatologists now call . . . ahem . . . the Late Antique Little Ice Age, as they though had known it all along. Strabo, a Greek geographer and historian of 2000 years ago recounts the report of a Greek merchant captain from Massilia (Marseilles) who encountered pack ice at the northern outlet of what we call the Irish Sea in the 4th century BCE. When I was in university, climatologists--newly mined--were predicting a new ice age within a century. Silly boys. Milankovitch in the 1920s, hypothesized that ice ages recur due to changes in axial tilt and orbital eccentricity. Mr. Heinrich in 1988 and Mr. Bond in 1997 both reported stratigraphic data which have now come to be known as Heinrich events and Bond events, and are used in the attempt to calculate the much shorter periods of climate change than Milankovitch's 100,000 year cycles (an estimate on his part).

Once again, I claim no expertise in science. When it comes to history, I pay attention, and have done all my life (almost--since I read H. G. Wells' Outline of History at age seven). By the way, a good case was made in the 1920s and -30s that Wells had plagiarized that work from The Web, written by an unmarried (gasp!) woman in Toronto. She took her case all the way to the House of Lords, who, of course, threw the suit out.
0 Replies
 
edgarblythe
 
  2  
Reply Tue 3 Mar, 2020 08:07 am
I am of the school which questions everything I know, daily. I retain the gist of a topic but rely on the more knowledgeable among us to guide me. Through a more or less trial and error process I eventually settle on a course for myself, but one which is open for change.
farmerman
 
  2  
Reply Tue 3 Mar, 2020 09:20 am
@edgarblythe,
Ive gone through at let 3 major upheavals in the sciences just since Ive graduated high school. I recall being drilled on the methodology ofstratigraphy and mountain building through to "New Global Tectonics", to just Global Tectonics.

Chemistry, Physics, Biology, geology all have had huuge poleshifts in the last 50 yers. Its amazing we get anything done. It appears that, in the past, wed generally had working models that, while they wooked, we werent really sure what drove em or why.

I always feel like a fraud and have to constantly re review my past applied reserch. Stuff can work but for all the wrong reasons. Its tough trying to understand Mother Nature
farmerman
 
  2  
Reply Tue 3 Mar, 2020 09:22 am
@farmerman,
Im in awe of guys like Bob Hazen. Hes smart, creative, and has never just sat there and accepted theold rules . Hes recently developed an entire mineralogical appearance list of minerals on an evolving planet
RABEL222
 
  2  
Reply Tue 3 Mar, 2020 11:34 am
@farmerman,
Farmerman what is the difference between a scientific proposal and a scientific fact. Is it not proof? Solid evidence that a proposal is true? And is it not true that proposals change almost day to day? The magazines I read always end their articles with in a few years we will probably know for sure.
farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Tue 3 Mar, 2020 05:17 pm
@RABEL222,
a proposal, in my business, is usually an appeal for some kind of assistance so that we can conduct any number of things to a hypothesis. Usually its an appeal for funding to do an experiment, conduct an expedition, or try to seek something out by standrd or innovative means.

My professional area is in applied science, not pure research. Im done with that for another lifetime
 

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