The Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning/Krueger Effect is one of 19 Social Biases (go HERE for a visual guide to many others), also known as superiority bias, the “Lake Woebegon” effect, or superiority bias. We’ve all met someone like this, and may even be like this ourselves if we don’t pay attention. As far as I can tell, it works like this: people who are less able (let’s say a beginning musician), don’t have the skills to make a correct assessment of their ability and tend to overrate their expertise. They think they’re better than they are because they lack the awareness to know any better. I’ve seen this all the time with very young students who finally “get” a simple song and are elated, full of vim and vigor because they think they’re good. And in a sense, they are, they’re better than they once were, they’ve triumphed over something difficult. But they lack the range of experience to clearly understand that they have a loooong way to go. Watch the tryouts for American Idol and you’ll see LOTS of this, some of it quite hilarious or heartbreaking, depending.

The weird thing is another side of the DK effect: those who are competent tend to underrate their expertise. The bashful expert, the sheepish performer, the self-deprecating. Chances are such folks wrongfully assume others have equal understanding and this bleeds them of confidence. They don’t really believe in their greater expertise perhaps also becasue of an awareness of how much there really is to know, and this also makes it difficult to build confidence.