Someone came up with a name for it: The Dunning-Kruger Effect.

One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision. – Bertrand Russell

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge. – Charles Darwin


The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool. – William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. –  Kurt Vonnegut, “The Sirens of Titan”

Stupidity Test

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Ever notice how stupid people just about always think they’re experts at everything, while smart people have self-doubts? Turns out there’s a name for that: the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Once again, it’s awesome when someone goes to the trouble to give name to a phenomenon I’ve observed for a long time.

According to Wikipedia, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals mistakenly rate their ability much higher than average. This bias is due to an inability to recognize their mistakes. Cornell University researchers David Dunning and Justin Kruger examined students’ self-assessment of their logical reasoning skills, grammatical skills, and humor. After being shown their scores on a university exam, the students were again asked to estimate their own rank. The competent group accurately estimated their rank, while the incompetent group still overestimated theirs.

Competence may weaken self-confidence, though, since many competent individuals falsely assume that others know at least as much as they do. Dunning and Kruger concluded that “the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.”

In short, people who know a lot about something think that they know less about it than they actually do. People who know little about something think that they know more about it than they actually do. Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make bad choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. As economist Paul Krugman writes, the truly incompetent are too incompetent to realize they’re incompetent.

In social settings others are attracted to confident people, regardless of the source of their confidence.  And while it’s not true that all confident people are incompetent, it seems to be true that incompetent people exude confidence due to an obliviousness to their ignorance. In particular, intelligent women are notoriously attracted to confidently stupid men, which causes many to doubt the existence of God.

There are ramifications on the national level too. During the George W. Bush years it was often lamented how the nation was being run by overconfident “C” students. The awesome blog Wickersham’s Conscience had this to say:

When you combine ignorance, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and pride in that ignorance, together with an unwillingness to develop judgment skills… well,  you’ve got Sarah Palin.

Ignorance cannot recognize ignorance. And I’m not in denial: I know I often fall victim to the Dunning-Kruger Effect my own bad self. It requires intelligence and insight to acknowledge limits to your intelligence and insight. As my dad used to say:

There’s no one stupider than someone who knows everything. – Bill McKinney

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2 Comments on “Someone came up with a name for it: The Dunning-Kruger Effect.”

  1. […] I think I might just start a blog called “Someone Came Up With A Name For It.” Through the magic of the Intertubes I’ve stumbled upon a couple of these, here and here. […]

  2. […] while back I wrote about the Dunning-Kruger Effect, the idea that stupid people just about always think they’re experts at everything, while smart […]


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