Psychology the Dunning Kruger Effect in Action

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The Nobel Prize (2000) winning research of professors David Dunning and Justin Kruger disclosed that quite a few Americans may overestimate their own worth. The analysis was done on American individuals at Cornell University and surprisingly enough when a relative study was done (Professor Heine of the University of British Columbia) on East Asian subjects, it revealed quite the opposite. In particular the Asian subjects underestimated their abilities and worth and had an aim to try and get along better with others.

What should one learn from this then? Perhaps for the small "cock" that inflates its chest to give out a loud cock-a-doodle-doo believing it is the all mighty gift to the world, it is a reminder to take a step backwards and do some self-assessing. That, of course, presupposes a realization that one is overestimating abilities or self-worth and the problem here is that such people cannot see what is true. In fact Dunning and Kruger have stated in a report following their original research:  

"This pattern also emerges in more real-world settings: among debate teams taking part in a college tournament and hunters quizzed about their knowledge of firearms just before the start of hunting season; among medical residents evaluating their patient-interviewing skills; and among medical lab technicians assessing their knowledge of medical terminology and everyday problem-solving ability in the lab."

Also described as a “double curse” by the professors, being made aware of lacking certain skills and then following a course towards improvement can only be realized if the individual becomes conscious of his/her limitations to begin with. However, it is the case that such a personage does not recognize the lack of skills and thus the vicious cycle or double curse recycles itself. It therefore becomes crucial to overcome such a dilemma when considering the effect it has in personal relationships as well as in the workplace.

This is the exact reason why teamwork is so essential. Here, there can be no one-sided judgment; one person picks up where another leaves off. And since cooperation is at the core of this work relationship, the staff is coerced one way or another, to either make their realizations or be taken off the team. Fortunately, as the same professors pointed out in another experiment, skills can be learnt to better recognize one’s own wrong estimations through external communication of meta-cognitive skills.

This develops people’s ability to make correct self-assessments and leads them to self-improvement. Preconceived ideas of what people know or do not know, do or cannot do are incorporated into daily performances. In essence, it is these preconceived notions that determine your performance! Dunning and Kruger pointed out the following:

"The top-down nature of performance estimates can have important behavioral consequences. [...]Starting in adolescence, women tend to rate themselves as less scientifically talented than men rate themselves. Because of this, women might start to think they are doing less well on specific scientific tasks than men tend to think, even when there is no gender difference in performance. Thinking they are doing less well, women might become less enthusiastic about participating in scientific activities".

Since it is (in many cases) the preconceived idea of one’s performance and not actuality that influences decisions about future activities, this can either push a person for a hard fall in the case of overestimating his/her performance, or the opposite—limiting and thus depriving the individual of great triumphs. Dunning and Kruger in the end proved that true self-awareness is key to better decisions about one’s future.

More about this author: Litsa Podaras

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