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The Dunning-Kruger Effect – when you don’t know that you don’t know

“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” – Bertrand Russell (1951)

Ever notice how those who seem to know the least about something tend to be the most confident in their knowledge?

the incompetent have too much confidence… the competent, not enough.

It’s known as the ‘Dunning-Kruger effect’, and I see it every day… especially in online discussions. It may be one of the reasons why misinformation is so prevalent and difficult to correct.

According to psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger,1,2 people who are incompetent (bad at something) tend not to realize they are incompetent. In fact, they often believe they’re better or smarter than they really are. It may be due to the fact that they don’t know enough detail to realize they are wrong.

Conversely, people with a high level of expertise tend to rate their competency lower. It might be because they assume others know as much as they do. Even those experts who are confident in their knowledge are very careful with their words, and always express a level of uncertainty. They are so aware of the grey area and gaps of knowledge in their area of expertise that they refuse to make black and white statements. Being wrong can ruin a researchers reputation, or get a professional sued.

This is why you rarely see university professors and Ph.D.’s selling fitness or weight loss products. The snake-oil salespeople of the world are either unaware of their lack of knowledge, or completely aware and simply lying.

This is one of those things you should be aware of next time you decide to grace the world with your opinion… do you really know what the hell you are talking about?

Reading a wikipedia article, book, or even taking a course in something doesn’t make you an expert in it.

No, you are not always entitled to your opinion!

1. Kruger J, & Dunning D (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of personality and social psychology, 77 (6), 1121-34 PMID: 10626367

ResearchBlogging.org2. Ehrlinger J, Johnson K, Banner M, Dunning D, & Kruger J (2008). Why the Unskilled Are Unaware: Further Explorations of (Absent) Self-Insight Among the Incompetent. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 105 (1), 98-121 PMID: 19568317

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    5 Responses to The Dunning-Kruger Effect – when you don’t know that you don’t know

    1. Wyatt says:

      This is a phenomenal post. I see this every day when people talk about treating pain. Keep up the great posts.

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