Why do people become ignorant

Dunning-Kruger Effect: The Power of Overconfidence

"I know that I know nothing", the Greek philosopher Socrates already knew. He was ahead of many people today. The Dunning-Kruger effect describes the opposite of the Socrates knowledge: the complete overestimation of oneself - nevertheless with the option of success

"The referee is blind ...", "If I had something to say in this country ...", "Where did the idiots get their driver's license?" - there are many examples of self-appointed experts in all possible fields. The Dunning-Kruger effect describes exactly this phenomenon: The Overestimation of one's own abilitiesto present yourself as competent.

Considerations on the Dunning-Kruger effect are published in 1999

Have published David Dunning and Justin Kruger their work on it in 1999. The two American psychologists had noticed in some of their previous studies that ignorance often leads to more self-confidence than knowledge. To support their assumption, they asked Cornell University (New York) students about their self-assessment of logical reasoning or grammar.

Incompetent people tend to overestimate themselves

The result of various tests: Those who rated their knowledge as particularly good achieved a poor result in the following test. Those who underestimated themselves achieved a much better result than expected. Dunning and Kruger then formulated four levels of self-awarenesswhich they also associate with the IQ and self-reflection:

  • Incompetent people often overestimate their own abilities.
  • They are unable to see the extent of their incompetence.
  • Due to their ignorance, they do not develop their competence.
  • As a result, they underestimate the superior abilities of other people.

Particularly critical: the combination of incompetence and ignorance

There are numerous examples of the pairing of ignorance and incompetence. One of the most famous is a bank robbery in 1995 by a man named McArthur Wheeler. Since then he has also been referred to as arguably the stupidest bank robber of all time. The then 44-year-old had robbed two banks one after the other in one day in Pittsburgh / USA - but, to the astonishment of the police, did not put on a face mask.

The bank robber was identified on the same day based on the camera recordings. When he was arrested, Mc Arthur Wheeler was more than astonished. The reason: he had rubbed his face with lemon juice before the bank robbery. Since this juice is used as invisible ink, the bank robber firmly believed that his face would also not be visible in the camera recordings.

Donald Trump as a case study in social psychology

Since the presidency of Donald Trump, the Dunning-Kruger Effect has become the focus of discussions among political scientists and social psychology. Sentences formulated by him such as “Only I can do that” or “Nobody knows more about this thing than I” are cited as a prominent example of the Dunning-Kruger effect and incompetence combined with ignorance.

At the same time, science poses the question of one Relationship between the intelligence quotient of Trump voters and the ability for self-reflection. The American neuroscientist Bobby Azarian put it on his blog for the journal Psychology Today: "Essentially, you are not smart enough to recognize that you are stupid." This would confirm the Dunning-Kruger effect. But there is also criticism of the work and the hypothesis of the two US psychologists.

Psychology criticizes Dunning-Kruger study

Edward Nuhfer (philosophy) and Steven Fleisher (psychology) from California State University criticize the connection between intelligence, education, self-reflection and self-assessment established by Dunning and Kruger in their 2017 study. The reason that better educated people are better able to assess their abilities would be "that experts are trained to be aware of the limits of their knowledge", formulate the two scientists.

Avoid overestimating yourself through competence

According to Dunning and Kruger, there are concrete options for escaping a possible reflection trap in the self-assessment. The two researchers assume that the acquisition of knowledge increases competence and thus counteracts ignorance.

A recognized model for skills development published by the two US scientists Stuart and Hubert Dreyfus in 1980. In it they describe the “mental activities to acquire skills” in five levels as

  • BeginningsAdvanced
  • More competent
  • Accomplished
  • expert

In 2018, David Dunning, together with his colleague Carmen Sanchez, formulated the fact that acquiring knowledge and thus competence still carries the risk of overconfidence. The two researchers analyzed a large-scale study that examined the financial knowledge of 25,000 young Americans.

Assess knowledge correctly

Their conclusion: beginners approach something with respect and semi-beginners tend to overestimate themselves and consider themselves experts. The English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744) put this in a nutshell: "A little learning is a dangerous thing."

Nevertheless, according to social psychology, overconfidence also has positive consequences. People who are convinced of themselves radiate a corresponding competence and determination. This can be useful both privately and at work.

The keyword “self-fulfilling prophecy” also comes into play here. If someone is convinced of himself and his actions, he puts a lot of energy to achieve his goal. Even if, realistically, he's not necessarily an expert on the subject.

Social media phenomenon

This shows a phenomenon of social media that is often called Example for the Dunning-Kruger effect is given:the corona virus. Few people had heard of the virus prior to the outbreak of the pandemic. In the meantime, many users of social media see themselves as experts in relation to the handling, origin or effects of the virus. Even if they have not studied medicine, are active in politics or virologists in terms of competence.

The 2001 study "Divergent Consequences of Success and Failure in Japan and North America" ​​shows that the mechanisms of incompetence and ignorance identified by Dunning and Kruger do not necessarily apply in every country Japanese tend to underestimate their skills and use failure to improve. Dunning and Kruger only interviewed North American students for their study.

Satirical Nobel Prize for David Dunning and Justin Kruger

The two scientists were honored for their research in 2000: with the satirical ig Nobel Prize from the US journal Annals of Improbable Research. The letters “ig” stand for the word ignoble and, in a general sense, for “unworthy” or “dishonorable”. Condition for nomination: The research must first make you laugh and then make you think.

David Dunning summarized this requirement for his research on overconfidence, incompetence and ignorance in one sentence: “The skills you need to give the correct answer are exactly the skills you need to know what is a correct answer. "