Paper of the Day: “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”
by Justin Kruger and David Dunning


Today’s POTD is a well-known classic in the genre of “social sciences research that confirms what we’ve always suspected: people are terrible”.

For those of you who’ve never heard of the “Dunning-Kruger effect”, you’re in for a treat! If you have, but haven’t read the paper, it’s worth it: you don’t want to Dunning-Kruger your own knowledge of the Dunning-Kruger effect, do you?

Why do some people so frustratingly combine incompetence with overweening confidence?

In 1995, McArthur Wheeler walked into two Pittsburgh banks and robbed them in broad daylight, with no visible attempt at disguise. He was arrested later that night, less than an hour after videotapes of him taken from surveillance cameras were broadcast on the 11 o’clock news. When police later showed him the surveillance tapes, Mr. Wheeler stared in incredulity. “But I wore the juice”, he mumbled.

The premise of the research is this: what if the reason is that the very skills required to assess one’s own competence are in fact the same skills required to be competent? In other words, what if it “takes one to know one”?

While some have raised questions over the years about the “tasks” used in the assessments, and many have slightly misinterpreted the research through pop-science coverage, the study does provide evidence to support this hypothesis.
In various tasks, bottom-half performers consistently overestimated their own (relative) performance while top-quartile performers consistently underestimated their own (relative) performance.

So, as Yeats had it, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”. Sounds about right to me!

What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born? Find out Monday on the next Paper of the Day!

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