#TrueOrFalse: Dunning-Kruger Effect

By Udeet Datta & Sam Marquez

The Theory: Dunning-Kruger Effect

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.

– Charles Darwin

This cognitive bias refers to the Dunning-Kruger effect and refers to people who appear incompetent at a task but rate themselves as high performers out of ignorance. This bias was hypothesized by psychologists Justin Kruger and David Dunning (Kang, S. 2016) after a study was conducted by testing students in areas of humor, grammar and logic and then comparing how well these students thought they did, with the actual results of the tests. The Dunning-Kruger effect has been making a resurgence in pop-psychology circles recently. The findings are often along the lines of “The less competent people are, the more competent they think they are.”

The Verdict: FALSE

What does the research say?

  • The interpretation of this effect actually differs to the actual effect discovered by David Dunning and Justin Kruger. It is not just “the incompetent” who overestimate their performance. Almost everyone does this, only the gap appears to be a little wider at the lower end of the scale. This means those who are less competent display a wider gap between their perceived competence levels when compared to their actual competence levels.
  • A potential reason for this discrepancy between perceived competence and actual competence amongst these individuals is that they may lack the knowledge and ability to physically asses how competent they really are at a certain task. As this knowledge, ability as well as the relevant skills are grown, the gap between perception and reality is closed (Yarkoni, T. 2010).
  • As we move up the competency scale, the gap between actual and perceived competency shrinks. An interesting result of the research is the finding that people who reside in the top quartile actually end up underestimating their competence slightly.

Kang, Sean H. K. “Spaced Repetition Promotes Efficient and Effective Learning.” Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 3, no. 1, 2016, pp. 12–19., doi:10.1177/2372732215624708. 

Yarkoni, Tal. “What the Dunning-Kruger Effect Is and Isn’t.” [Citation Needed], 7 July 2010, http://www.talyarkoni.org/blog/2010/07/07/what-the-dunning-kruger-effect-is-and-isnt/.

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