What is the Dunning–Kruger Effect

I just heard about this again and looked it up – and it really applies to this administration. I’m going to share the info from Wikipedia to explain the Dunning-Kruger effect in detail. But see if you agree that it explains many attitudes we see each day with people within the Obama administration. People being elitist is one thing – but this takes it to an even higher level… so what do you think? And definitely check out the Peter Principle.

Dunning–Kruger effect

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.[1]

Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University conclude, “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”.[2]


The phenomenon was first tested in a series of experiments published in 1999 by David Dunning and Justin Kruger of the Department of Psychology, Cornell University.[2][3] They noted earlier studies suggesting that ignorance of standards of performance is behind a great deal of incompetence. This pattern was seen in studies of skills as diverse as reading comprehension, operating a motor vehicle, and playing chess or tennis.

Dunning and Kruger proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:

  1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
  2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
  3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
  4. recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill.

Dunning has since drawn an analogy (“the anosognosia of everyday life”)[1][4] with a condition in which a person who suffers a physical disability because of brain injury seems unaware of or denies the existence of the disability, even for dramatic impairments such as blindness or paralysis.

Supporting studies

Dunning and Kruger set out to test these hypotheses on Cornell undergraduates in psychology courses. In a series of studies, they examined the subjects’ self-assessment of logical reasoning skills, grammatical skills, and humor. After being shown their test scores, the subjects were again asked to estimate their own rank: the competent group accurately estimated their rank, while the incompetent group still overestimated theirs. As Dunning and Kruger noted,

Across four studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd.

Meanwhile, people with true ability tended to underestimate their relative competence. Roughly, participants who found tasks to be relatively easy erroneously assumed, to some extent, that the tasks must also be easy for others.

A follow-up study, reported in the same paper, suggests that grossly incompetent students improved their ability to estimate their rank after minimal tutoring in the skills they had previously lacked, regardless of the negligible improvement in actual skills.

In 2003, Dunning and Joyce Ehrlinger, also of Cornell University, published a study that detailed a shift in people’s views of themselves when influenced by external cues. Participants in the study, Cornell University undergraduates, were given tests of their knowledge of geography, some intended to affect their self-views positively, some negatively. They were then asked to rate their performance, and those given the positive tests reported significantly better performance than those given the negative.[5]

Daniel Ames and Lara Kammrath extended this work to sensitivity to others, and the subjects’ perception of how sensitive they were.[6] Other research has suggested that the effect is not so obvious and may be due to noise and bias levels. In a series of 12 tasks across three studies, researchers found that on moderately difficult tasks, the best and worst performers differ very little in accuracy, and on more difficult tasks, the best performers are less accurate than the worst performers in their judgments. This pattern suggests that judges at all skill levels are subject to similar degrees of error.[7]

Ehrlinger et al. (2008) made an attempt to test alternative explanations, but came to qualitatively similar conclusions to the original work. The paper concludes that the root cause is that, in contrast to high performers, “poor performers do not learn from feedback suggesting a need to improve.”[8]

Studies on the Dunning–Kruger effect tend to focus on American test subjects. A study on some East Asian subjects suggested that something like the opposite of the Dunning–Kruger effect may operate on self-assessment and motivation to improve.[9] East Asians tend to underestimate their abilities, and see underachievement as a chance to improve themselves and get along with others.


Dunning and Kruger were awarded the 2000 satirical Ig Nobel Prize in Psychology for their paper, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”.[10]

Historical references

Although the Dunning–Kruger effect was put forward in 1999, Dunning and Kruger have noted similar historical observations from philosophers and scientists, including Confucius (“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”),[3] Bertrand Russell (“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”),[8] and Charles Darwin, whom they quoted in their original paper (“ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”).[2]Geraint Fuller, commenting on the paper, noted that Shakespeare expressed similar sentiment in As You Like It (“The Foole doth thinke he is wise, but the wiseman knowes himselfe to be a Foole.” (V.i)).[11]

And something else to consider —

Peter Principle

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For the BBC sitcom, see The Peter Principle (TV series).

The Peter Principle is a proposition that states that the members of an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability. The principle is commonly phrased, “Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence.” In more formal parlance, the effect could be stated as: employees tend to be given increasing responsibility and authority until they cannot continue to work competently. It was formulated by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book The Peter Principle, a humorous[1] treatise, which also introduced the “salutary science of hierarchiology”.

The principle holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Eventually they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their “level of incompetence”), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions. Peter’s Corollary states that “[i]n time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties”[2] and adds that “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.” “Managing upward” is the concept of a subordinate finding ways to subtly manipulate his or her superiors in order to prevent them from interfering with the subordinate’s productive activity or to generally limit the damage done by the superiors’ incompetence.

This principle can be modeled and has theoretical validity for simulations.[3]

For more details – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Principle

One thought on “What is the Dunning–Kruger Effect

  1. usawoman says:

    Very interesting! It does, indeed, sound like what is going on in the current administration. Obama is in way over his head, and he has not appointed competent people to advise him.

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