Monday, May 16, 2011

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

There's a rather interesting psychological study that's out there, research done by Dunning and Kruger, so their end result is aptly named the Dunning-Kruger effect. In 1999, these two published a study named Unskilled and Unaware of It:... detailing what they found in their study. Anyone with college access to journals or perhaps even Google can dig out the original article.

Anyhow, the study had those people participating in the study take tests over a various number of subjects, including humor, logic and grammar. The findings perhaps are not overly surprising for section of the study: Those who were inept in these areas, tended to overestimate their competence, and believed them being not only much better than they were, but above average compared to the rest of the people taking the study. So the idiot in the corner getting a 30% thinks he's not only doing well on the test, but also believes he is doing better than the rest of the people around him. The opposite is true for those who are above average in competence on those tests. They estimate their abilities as below what their true skills are. Furthermore, they assume/guess/estimate (without any knowledge of these people) the average competence level in the study is much higher. That is, they over-estimate how competent people around them are.

This study, while done well, does not shed to light anything that most people wouldn't consider anecdotally obvious (unless they're... the types of people who overestimate themselves, to say the least.) Many people throughout history has noted this behavior. Charles Darwin is famously quoted as saying, “ Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” This, in fact, is what the study proves using a proper scientific study. However, this is not the most interesting part of the study.

The most interesting part of the study is that the subjects were allowed to later see everyone's tests, and then were allowed to reevaluate their own and others abilities based on what they saw. Those people, who were above average and overestimated others while underestimating themselves, and saw the tests, properly understood and recognized that they were above average, and the rest of the people were not. Their reevaluated scores were much more closely in line with the actual results, after that.

However, those below average people who believed they were competent, after seeing those tests, still deemed themselves as above average and underestimated everyone else in the study, despite seeing all the completed tests. The idiots, as I'd call them, still believed after seeing the evidence that they were competent when they were not. How the hell?

To quote part of the abstract: “Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it” Basically, these people are ignorant but not only that... since they are ignorant, they're too ignorant... to realize they're ignorant. That's quite a bit of of ignorants. (rim shot, woo!) So basically, intelligent and competent people realize, after seeing everyone’s efforts, that they themselves are intelligent and the others are not. The incompetent and ignorant people, however, are so inept they cannot, even after seeing evidence of their stupidity, realize they're stupid. They cannot even comprehend and understand the evidence that shows they're dumb. That's Republican status, there. Literally.

This study sums up the vast majority of internet psychology so well, that it should be renamed the “Internet Forums Effect.” Particularly since the communication is done via writing and... well, let us say, that many people I know haven't read a book that actually used wit, much less understand what wit it.

The full abstract, if anyone is interested enough is here, so one can read it and perhaps look up the full study if they so desire.


Unskilled and Unaware of it

Journal of Personality & Social Psychology; Dec99, Vol. 77 Issue 6, p1121-1134

People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Across 4 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 their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.

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