The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias which leads individuals with low ability to overstate their skills and ability. Put simply, people who aren’t very good at things believe they are better at them than they really are. We all fall victim to this effect.

Summary by The World of Work Project

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Individuals with lower levels of ability often overestimate their ability. This could be due to lower levels of self-awareness, or it could be because lower capability individuals don’t have the skills and knowledge necessary to realize how little they know.

This is something we see often in the world. We’ve all met people who speak with authority, though they lack the knowledge to do so. Perhaps this is part of the reason so many people push back against experts…

The Dunning-Kruger effect is named after David Dunning and Justin Kruger, who first described it. In their research they assessed individuals over a range of capabilities (like grammar, logic, etc), and asked them to self-assess as well.

A frog prince might be suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect
Sometimes frogs think they’re princes. Not that we have anything against frogs…

What they found was that individuals who were objectively assessed as having low capabilities, consistently and significantly over-estimated their own levels of competence. For example, an individual who perhaps scored in the 10th percentile would estimate that they were actually in the 54th percentile.

The outcome of this is that less competent people don’t realize their lack of competence, they don’t realize the competence of others and they don’t recognize their own mistake.

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Learning More

The way we think as humans is fascinating. Cognitive biases clearly explain some of our “irrationality”. The Dunning-Kruger Effect is just one example of this. Understanding our Dual Process way of thinking provides some further insight into it. This “irrationality” means that we’re all suggestible and susceptible to nudging and the powers of choice architecture and persuasion.

Communication is another tool often used to change people’s behaviors. Ideas like the rhetorical triangle and the five canons of rhetoric shed some light on how this works. For a more detailed look at communicating for persuasion, explore Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.

Increasingly, products are also design to be persuasive, as it were. They are designed to create habits and drive increased use. Examples of this include Fogg’s model and the Hook model of behavioral design.

You can listen to our podcast, below, on nudging to learn more about how our behaviors can be influenced:

The World of Work Project View

We’ve all witnesses the Dunning-Kruger Effect. We’ve been around people who think they are great at something, but really aren’t. This can be both frustrating and humorous. And it can make us feel a bit better about ourselves as well, or it can lead us to look down at others.

Unfortunately for us, we’ve all been that person as well, whether we know it or not. We’re all subject to biases like this. The less we know, the less we know how little we know, and so on. It’s partly for this reason that feedback is so important.

We are well aware that in writing our articles, we sometimes believe we know more than we do! We’re sorry about that. We try and stay humble, open and inquisitive and we’re thankful for all the great people we’ve helped educate us and keep us on the right track while we’ve been working on this project.

Also – it’s worth noting that there may be a cultural element to the Dunning-Kruger effect. Some cultures may produce people less susceptible to it than the USA, where mast of the research was undertaken.

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The information here is based on work by David Dunning and Justin Kruger. You can read more on this subject in the article: “The Dunning-Kruger effect: On being ignorant of one’s own ignorance”. 

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