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Dunning-Kruger Effect Explained

Dunning-Kruger Effect, or why do you think you know better

Have you ever wondered why in the past few months, everyone around you seemed to be a virology or political expert? It could have something to do with the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

In this article, I will explain what it is and how it makes us think we are like Einstein sometimes, even if in reality we are not.

What is exactly the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias or an unconscious mechanism our brain falls into that influences our decisions on every level.

The research led by Dunning and Kruger highlighted how people who are less capable in a particular field will be those most likely to believe themselves to be excellent, therefore overestimating their knowledge in that area.

This essentially happens for 2 reasons:

  • people who have less knowledge in that particular area will not have a reasonable benchmark for comparison;

  • it’s likely they rarely received transparent feedback about their real abilities.

How does this cognitive bias works?

According to the studies led by Dunning and Kruger, a person without adequate skills in a certain area will tend to:

  • Overestimate their skills. Thinking they can do certain things better than they actually can, they will end up promising and/or expecting results they cannot achieve.

  • Don’t recognize other people’s skills. Taking a false sense of knowledge as a yardstick, they will not be able to see talent around them. This can lead them to hire or choose the wrong people for the job.

  • Don’t recognize their limits. They will not understand when to stop and therefore will end up making risky decisions. In the same way, they will not be able to judge their own performance objectively.

Think if you had to rely on a professional who does not have the required skills. If you don’t realise that he/she is not a good fit for the job you may end up failing the project.

Have you ever met people who think they know better? They are probably under the influence of the Dunning-Kruger Effect and still don’t know!

Dunning-Kruger effect: When does it occur?

The Dunning-Kruger effect occurs when an individual lacks a metacognitive ability. That is a cognitive ability that allows you to think about how you think and behave, leading to self-reflection.

We live in a society where self-confidence is a highly valued personality trait. Many people would rather avoid a sincere “I don’t know” than being catalogued as incompetent. In doing so we are falling right into the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Who can fall into the Dunning-Kruger effect?

Anyone. We all experienced this at least once in our lives. Think about the recent Pandemic, when suddenly everyone was a virology expert behind a screen, just because they read some articles on the internet or listened to some experts on TV.

Raincheck: how long does it take to become a doctor and get a PhD? This is how we can put things back into perspective.

So how do we really become more competent?

Self-evaluation is a powerful weapon in this case. Once you know what you know and what you don’t, you’ll be able to fill in the blanks and become truly competent.

Also, we often tend to think that a person who has any kind of degree, is an expert in everything, even in fields that are not within his/her studies. People will ask this person for advice fueling the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Being smart and knowing your stuff are two completely different things.

Keep this in mind, and with some more self-reflection, you will be able to keep your feet on the ground and always make a good impression!


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