You're a moron... and you don't know about it!

published Jan 10, 2008, last modified Jun 26, 2013

There are (let's simplify) three kinds of people in the world. The superbly competent, the average guys, and the morons. But if you ask them, you wouldn't know them from their responses.

That's the conclusion a group of psychologists (headed by Dr. Dunning) have arrived:

  1. Competent people underestimate their skills.
  2. Average people normally pin their skills rather well.
  3. And the morons always think they're more qualified than everyone else.

It's surprising that a study was needed to confirm what we've all already known, right? Well, here are more interesting quotations from the article on the SF Chronicle discussing the study:

On the contrary. People who do things badly, Dunning has found in studies conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely confident of their abilities -- more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.
One reason that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured, the researchers believe, is that the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence. The incompetent, therefore, suffer doubly, they suggested in a paper appearing in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
On the humor test, in which participants were asked to rate jokes according to their funniness (subjects' ratings were matched against those of an ``expert'' panel of professional comedians), low-scoring subjects were also more apt to have an inflated perception of their skill. But because humor is idiosyncratically defined, the researchers said, the results were less conclusive.

I know this all sounds too unbelievable to be true, but it is. The contemporary formal name for this observation is the Dunning-Kruger effect.