The Dunning-Kruger Effect - Why Does It Happen?

Today's article is about the Dunning-Kruger effect. Firstly, does the incompetence of some people make them incapable of being aware of their faults? Let's go beyond intelligence and look at how those who are the most confident are often the least capable.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect - Why Does It Happen?

Last update: 03 May, 2021

The Dunning-Kruger effect may prove the inability to make an objective assessment of one’s own abilities, taking into account the degree of training. So, do you think people with less academic preparation can adequately assess their own limitations?

For example, there’s a bias when a person self-medicates without having medical knowledge. What happens is that people irrationally assume they know everything about the positive effect of self-medication. And those who are well-trained tend to second-guess themselves.

What’s the Dunning-Kruger effect?

The Dunning-Kruger effect proposes that someone is prone to overestimate their abilities in a specific area even though they don’t have a broad mastery of a subject. Also, it states that those skilled in a certain subject tend not to trust themselves.

How did this theory arise though? In the 1990s, David Dunning and Justin Kruger promoted research with the idea of proving that incompetent people were incapable of knowing they’re incompetent. Ironically, this is due to their incompetence!

However, it’s a mistake to use this theory. It isn’t about the incompetence of others but about one’s own incompetence. Thus, we must make us wonder whether we’re aware of our own incompetence in those things we’re not good at.

It’s true that we can recognize someone who isn’t capable of realizing their own incompetence and tries to give an impression of exacerbated mastery. However, there’s no way to establish that the person is, in fact, unaware of their own lack of ability.

A woman thinking.
Competent people may undervalue themselves, thinking they may not be able to perform well.

The causes of this behavior

This effect is what’s known as a cognitive bias and prevents people from objectively evaluating themselves. According to the authors, Dunning and Kruger, this phenomenon occurs due to a problem of metacognition (the ability to analyze one’s own performance).

The premise is as follows: people with limited knowledge of a subject have a dual burden. Not only do they come to the wrong conclusions and make constant mistakes, but their own incompetence deprives them of the ability to realize it.

Self-esteem is an important factor in the occurrence of a confidence bias, as is the case with the Dunning-Kruger effect. Any superiority complex actually hides an inferiority complex and self-esteem problems.

Thus, people often choose the alternative of pretending to be capable rather than accepting the reality of not knowing about a subject. There may even be people with a high level of intelligence who have a cognitive bias regarding their abilities.

Examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect in everyday life

We’ll now look at some everyday examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect. As we mentioned above, anyone can exhibit this type of behavior, regardless of their level of intelligence.

1. Conversations about politics

Politics is one of the areas in which people irrationally feel they have accurate and truthful answers. It’s common to hear simplistic opinions on complex political issues from people who have no background in the subject.

2. Medicine and health

Medical sciences are another topic people tend to simplify to the point of indicating with certainty the effectiveness of some medications without taking into account the opinion of professionals.

In this way, there are those who believe their personal experience gives them the knowledge to help others.

3. Relationships

We often receive opinions about what we should do to improve conditions when we talk about relationship problems with some trusted friends.

These opinions are based on nothing more than anecdotal events. However, our friends may claim these are efficient solutions.

Ways to avoid it

What you must do to avoid this cognitive bias is to create the habit of naturally questioning all those opinions you take for granted. That is, start asking yourself questions that dismantle your beliefs in order to reach a more objective opinion.

Another good way to remain sensible about one’s own capabilities is to look for updated information from time to time. People who stick with what they’ve learned and don’t bother to keep looking for new information will most likely end up exaggerating what they know.

Two people discussing the Dunning-Kruger effect..
Social relationships with this effect abound every time someone gives advice.

Read about the Narcissistic Personality Disorder

What do the studies say about it?

The proven information regarding the Dunning-Kruger effect concludes that it can’t be understood as a simple way to explain why people can’t see their mistakes. There are articles on the subject, but it’s a difficult effect to measure.

Some research established that people may notice their difficulty improving in some areas rather quickly. However, proponents of the original Dunning and Kruger study claim it’s valid to think that people who are more confident in their abilities tend to overlook their own shortcomings.

The latter would be because their level of confidence keeps them from having a capacity for self-criticism and acceptance of mistakes. Instead, they rationalize their reality as they see fit.

How to deal with people who have the Dunning-Kruger effect?

It’s natural to feel helpless when you’re in the presence of people who give simplistic opinions on subjects they don’t know about. Ideally, keep calm and remember you’re not the one with the problem. If you allow someone to alter your mood then you give power to them.

To the extent that you’re able to accept other people’s opinions, no matter how crazy they may be, you’ll be closer to reaching a good level of emotional maturity. Remember that no one is obliged to agree with your opinions, even if you’re right.

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