Equally Unaware Of Stupidity

via just.K

via just.K

Ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? Even if the name doesn’t ring any bells you’re probably familiar with the basic idea : stupid people tend to overestimate their competence and underestimate the competence of others. The effect was famously demonstrated in a series of experiments performed by two researchers (Justin Kruger and David Dunning) in December 1999. If you’re curious the research paper is available online [pdf].

This notion has become so popular that many probably consider it “common sense”. However, recent research shows that the original conclusions made by Dunning and Kruger were likely wrong :

We replicated, eliminated, or reversed the association between task performance and judgment accuracy reported by Kruger and Dunning (1999) depending on task difficulty. On easy tasks, where there is a positive bias, the best performers are also the most accurate in estimating their standing, but on difficult tasks, where there is a negative bias, the worst performers are the most accurate. This pattern is consistent with a combination of noisy estimates and overall bias, with no need to invoke differences in metacognitive abilities.

(Skilled or Unskilled, but Still Unaware of It [pdf], 2006)

To put it simply, everybody, regardless of their skill or lack thereof, tend to make incorrect estimates about their own ability. A different study [pdf] (2008) has indicated that there may be a weak correlation between skill and estimate quality, but the significance is marginal at best.

Disclosure : This post was heavily influenced by “All Are Skill Unaware” by Robin Hanson.

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