The Dunning-Kruger effect: The paradox of our ignorance

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Bertrand Russell, the English philosopher, once said, “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” 

Interestingly, he said it much before the existence of the internet. Russell’s philosophy fits perfectly in today’s era of social media, where people believe that they know everything about something, which in reality, they don’t.

Russell’s axiom was studied, and there is data to back it up. The people who are bad at something tend to believe that they are exceptionally good at it, while people who are good at it always doubt in their hearts. Amateurs are overconfident, and experts are underconfident. 

Psychology has a term for this, “Dunning-Kruger effect.” It is named after the two researchers who coined it. And the effect is widely seen in our everyday life.

The Act Of Ignorance Of Ignorance 

There are four types of information:

Known Knowns

It refers to the information that you know you understand. Example: Driving a car and swimming.

Known Unknowns

It refers to the information that you know you don’t understand. Example: Machine Learning and Rocket Science 

Unknown Knowns

It refers to the things that you know but didn’t realize. Example: How to be a parent and how to talk.

Unknown Unknowns

It refers to information that you’re unaware of. Not only do you not know about it, but you don’t even realize that you have absolutely no information.

The unknown unknowns is where the Dunning-Kruger effect comes into play, in the worst manner. Unfortunately, it is usual for us to overestimate our skills and underestimate our ignorance. 

However, the Dunning-Kruger effect is beyond ignorance. It presents a meta-layer- the ignorance of our ignorance.

Russell said long back that people make mistakes and tend to advocate for that because they believe it is the right way, and they choose to be adamant about their beliefs.

The overestimation leads to further damage.

For example, gun owners who claim to have high knowledge in the field are the ones who score the lowest in gun safety tests.

We live in the false belief of being better than others and being exceptionally good at our skills. 

For example, Our blindspots are pretty noticeable when it comes to our emotional awareness. We often dump our anger, frustration, resentment, and jealousy on others. We all do it without even realizing it.

But the problem is when some people don’t even have the slightest realization. 

These people are reluctant to listen to feedback and learn from resources that will help them improve.

This habit is not limited to emotional awareness but prevails in all aspects of life. The people with unhealthy lifestyles rate themselves as healthy individuals. 

Similarly, people who score poorly in cognitive reasoning and analytical abilities severely overestimate their skills, whereas those who score higher will undermine themselves.

People who need help refuse it because they don’t believe that they need it.

The most complex thing about the Dunning-Krugger effect is the way out of it because one needs to accept the issue rather than ignore it.

For example, conspiracy theorists believe in their ideas even if there is no logic and reasoning to them, and it is not an easy task to mold their beliefs. 

A large part of this problem is the comfort in the feeling of knowing. When we know that we know something, we get a sense of assurance even if we don’t. It gives us relief from the anxiety of not knowing.

How To Step Out Of This Box?

It might seem difficult, but there is a way out of Dunning-Kruger’s effect. Getting people to learn new skills rather than assessing their abilities will help in reducing the Dunning-Kruger effect. 

If someone is bad at accounting but doesn’t realize it, then teaching them organization skills will make them realize how to organize paperwork and transactions.

Accepting that you don’t know everything and intentionally underestimating yourself will open new possibilities for growth and learning. It will make you a realist and not a narcissist.

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