Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Dunning-Kruger effect

David Pescovitz posted at Boing Boing last week on the Dunning-Kruger effect, which accounts for a curious relationship between incompetence and confidence. From the abstract of a 1999 paper by Cornell psychology professor David A. Dunning and (then) graduate student Justin Kruger:

People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.
The Dunning-Kruger effect helps to explain why students with serious writing deficits can often have wildly inflated opinions of their abilities (and thus regard as “nitpicky” someone who points out run-on sentences and tangled syntax). Dunning-Kruger also helps to explain why the students who worry most about their competence are usually those with genuinely strong skills.

And Dunning-Kruger helps me to understand my unease about recommendation forms that ask for an appraisal of student self-confidence. Instead of answering, I write “A high level of self-confidence is not necessarily a good thing.” Maybe now I’ll just write “See Dunning and Kruger (1999).”

comments: 2

stefan said...

I remember a post here some time ago that contained an excerpt from Jane Austen's Emma. I wonder if Mrs. Elton could be thought a Dunning-Kruger sufferer.

Michael Leddy said...

I would think so. Emma too, who specializes in erroneous conclusions. I guess the antidote to the D-K effect is the self-knowledge that fosters humility.