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The Dunning-Kruger Effect – Dual Burden Of Incompetence

In any given skill, some people have high expertise, some have a fair amount of expertise and then others have less. The question is, are they all accurately aware of their level of expertise or do they tell themselves something otherwise?

Fred has been aspiring to start his entrepreneurship career. It had been his biggest dream and thereby decided to invest his life savings in his venture. He is one hundred percent confident about the success of the business because he has worked it out all in his mind. He had a rough idea about what he was going to do. However, what he didn’t learn was the nuances of business and the fluctuations in the market.

Without testing the waters, his big leap into the huge ocean of business only made him drown deeper and deeper into many parts of the business such as managing finances, marketing, production, supply, accounting etc.

Fred has overestimated his knowledge and pursued something that requires more of his time, effort and dedication. This is simply what the Dunning-Kruger effect is all about.

What Is The Dunning-Kruger Effect?

The Dunning-Kruger effect says that people who are unskilled or incompetent experience an illusory superiority in their skill set and mistakenly rate their abilities much higher than average.

These people are deficient in a specific skill set or knowledge and are unaware of their deficit and hence overestimate their abilities.

This effect happens because people are much less aware of the skill, they believe what they know is what the skill comprises as a whole and there isn’t anything much for further addendums.

For example, one believes that he knows to play the piano best by just learning to play one tune.

Experimental Evidence

To understand this phenomenon further in people and to explore if people are innocent of their inability Justin Kruger and David Dunning, the founders of the Dunning Kruger effect conducted an experiment.

In the experiment, they planned to ask the participants to take tests that assessed their intellectual expertise such as grammar and logical reasoning as well as tests that assessed social skills. The experimenters then asked the participants to rate how well they were performing in the tests. It is done either in the form of self-evaluation (their belief about their performance) or comparative self-evaluations (how well they are performing compared to others).

As expected, they did overestimate their performance as they chose questions that seemed sensible to them just like their competent counterparts. However, they weren’t aware of the errors they committed in the questions they chose as they believed their answers were right.

The Dual Burden Of Incompetence

The Dunning-Kruger effect assumes that the skill that is required to achieve competence in one area is also the same skill that is required to evaluate the competence of others.

For example, only a dance master can be the best judge for a dance competition.

When it comes to judgments based on knowledge, those who perform poorly experience a dual burden.

Firstly, their skill deficits would lead them to make a lot of mistakes when they perform. Secondly, due to their deficits in skill and judgment, they are also unable to detect the competency and the logical reason behind the choice of knowledgeable others.

As a result, they believe that they have made reasonable choices, and this would create an illusory belief that they performed well.

Why Is It So?

This dual burden of incompetence occurs because for a person to have expertise in evaluating, they should also have the same amount of expertise in making the right choices in the first place. As they are interdependent, it leads to one affecting the other.

Taylor is an amateur photographer. When he participated in a photography contest, he believed his snaps were well-angled, seemingly conveyed a good story and were very well-timed. When he viewed the clicks of other highly established photographers, they didn’t seem to have depth and were not worthy of bagging the $100,000 cash prize. He had high hopes for his work, nevertheless. Despite his confidence, he didn’t manage to take home the trophy.

For another example, only if Henry knows Algebra and can solve any kind of equation, will he be able to evaluate his answers of David. If Henry can’t get his answers right, he clearly can’t say whether David has made mistakes or not.

Assumptions Of The Competent

On the one hand, some people overinflate their capabilities and feel that they are on top of the world. On the other hand, some people are competent in fact, feel that they are below average than others. They are usually accurate about their judgments, yet they fall prey to the false consensus effect where they overestimate the performance of others.

They are clear about their evaluations of their performance yet overlook the uniqueness in their work compared to the others as they perceive others to be more competent, calculative and creative.

For example, Neil is a celebrity chef. However, he always likes to challenge his level of expertise and not simply bask in his fame. He decided to put his skill to the test by participating in a regional cooking competition which is pretty much open to cooks from any level of proficiency.

Given his level of excellence and situation, Neil can relax and take things easy. But he chose to get worked up by looking at how other chefs seem to confidently work their way through their recipes and their grandeur way of serving.

In this example, although Neil is established at what he does, he seems to overestimate the skillset and creativity of others thereby putting his merit to questioning.

The Metacognitive Judgment Of High And Poor Performers

Time and again the metacognitive skill of the performers has been proven to be vastly different from one another. Previous studies have been shown to prove the differences in the metacognitive judgment of the performers. When asked to judge the responses to the individual test items, the high performers were able to better predict which answers they would get right and the ones they would get wrong compared to poor performers.

This difference has been proved in many other tasks such as students taking exams, clinicians diagnosing mental illnesses, pharmacy graduate students on the lookout for licensure, tennis players knowing which shot would give a win, bridge players deciding the best and the worst moves etc.

The lack of competence in their skill prevents the poor performers from acknowledging the skill of others and overestimating their level of performance. This finding helped conclude that there is a causal relationship between a lack of skill at a task and weak metacognitive skills.

However, Dunning and Kruger didn’t stop there. They further studied if improving the skills of the participants would enhance their metacognitive skills eventually. As predicted, improving the logical reasoning skill of the participants did improve their metacognitive ability to better predict their own responses and that of others.

This effect of overestimation is what people sometimes informally call over-confidence. In many cases, underprepared people always seem less anxious and highly confident about their preparations and their performance compared to the ones who have made the effort to prepare in-depth.

In a study conducted among volleyball coaches, it was found that coaches in the lowest quartile reported more efficacy than ability. On the other hand, coaches from the highest quartile reported lower efficacy than ability.

Ways To Overcome The Dunning-Kruger Effect

  1. Objectively learn to evaluate your ability by asking many questions.
  2. Always challenge yourself by choosing to take various perspectives.
  3. Take feedback from people who are experienced and knowledgeable in the field.
  4. Level up your skills further by taking up short courses or reading about them in depth.
  5. Be open to criticisms and suggestions given by people.
  6. Monitor your level of performance and measure your progress.
  7. Create a list of milestones to achieve the skill.
  8. Experiment with the skillset that you already possess.
  9. Be patient with yourself and always hold the mindset of being better rather than perfection.

Criticisms Of The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Although this theory gives a comprehensive idea of how people appraise their own performance, there are a few criticisms, however.

  • The critics claim that both top and bottom performers do not differ in their ability to evaluate the level of their performances. It is added that people in general experience difficulty in evaluating their abilities and therefore it isn’t a fallacy that is found just in poor performers.
  • People generally tend to overestimate their skills and therefore it is not a result of an existing relationship between skill level and metacognitive skill.
  • The critics also raise the notion that the measures used to assess the skill of the participants are not statistically reliable.
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