21 Dunning-Kruger effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect (AKA the Facebook friends Phenomenon) is a cognitive bias where the confidence of an individual on a given topic is disproportionately higher than the individual’s knowledge on that topic. In other words, a little knowledge makes you feel like an expert, but the more you learn the more you know you don’t know. That is what is explained by the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

File:Dunning–Kruger effect.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
People get really confident with a little knowledge.
From Wikicommons

I call it the Facebook Friends Fallacy for obvious reasons. Every one of us have that friend who reads one article and is suddenly an expert in international policy or healthcare policy or whatever the particular topic of the conversation is. Simply because there is a wealth of knowledge available to us these days doesn’t make us experts in any of those areas. Just because you read an article from one particular view (which probably agreed with you already because we all seek confirmation of our own beliefs)

How can this help you be better in life? By understanding the way your own brain (and ego) may be working against you. Because you are aware you can be on guard for your own hubris if you are on the left side of the graph, a little knowledge, and a lot of confidence.

It can also help you to know when you should have more confidence in a particular area. If you have actually studied a topic from various sides over a longer period of time you may realize that you are still a novice but you should also realize that you may know a thing or two.

It is a tricky balance to strike but understanding how the Dunning-Kruger Effect works will help you understand your place on the curve and how you should react to that friend from high school who is suddenly an epidemiologist.

But the effect doesn’t just apply to knowing and applying objective facts. Sheldon, Ames, and Dunning explored emotional intelligence in relation to the Dunning Kruger effect in their 2010 study. So we all can have very inaccurate ideas of our own technical, intellectual or interpersonal skills.

Dunning-Kruger Solutions

  1. Get honest feedback – This can be really hard because feedback isn’t something we do or receive well as a species, but if you have someone willing to give it it can be a precious gift.
  2. Keep Learning – Whatever area of life you find yourself interested in keep learning and growing in that area so you can keep moving to the right of the Dunning-Kruger curve
  3. Stay humble – Ask more and declare less it prevents you from eating crow in the future.

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