Dunning-Kruger Effect: Psychology Term Review #3

Ah yes. The Dunning-Kruger effect. We have all heard about it at some point. Every professor has probably been accused of it. Every expert in a field at one point in time has been accused of it. Luckily for me, I have NEVER been accused of it. This must mean people who read this don’t think I am above average. Or maybe they are above average and see my writing as just average?Who knows, either way, let us begin.

The Dunning-Kruger effect as defined by various studies (1999, 2003, 2012) in combination with the simplified version used by Wikipedia defines the Dunning-Kruger effect as follows: A cognitive and social bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from “illusory superiority” , mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it actually is in reality. Along with this definition, various other studies on the Dunning-Kruger effect also suggest that high-ability individuals may underestimate their relative ability/competence and may wrongly assume that tasks and skills which are easy for them are also easy for others.

Ah yes, the classic student-attacks-professor with intelligent term that has large implications. The funny part is, they are right more often then they should be.

In lamen’s term, I will dub the short and simple version of the Dunning-Kruger effect as “Too Stupid to Know Stupid” and “Too Smart to Know Excellence”.

Take a moment to look at the graph on the left here.

Bottom Quartile = 0-25% of population

2nd Quartile = 25–50% of population

3rd Quartile = 50%-75%

Top Quartile = 75% to the top

As you can see on the chart above, competent individuals underestimate their abilities, while the bottom 75% of the population vastly overestimate their scores. The very logical explanation is that the Dunning-Kruger is as a result of our ever present ego. In our current society, no one wants to plead ignorance to a crowd — yet alone to one’s self. As a result of this, our mind starts to create a defense mechanism to react to this situation. In this case, this is done by the creation of a false illusion that one’s ability is better than one actually is in reality. To quote a rap song, “Ignorance is bliss, ’cause she never heard of this”. The idea that “ignorance is bliss” is a pattern that we see very often in any sort of social psychology.

Along with this, it is blatantly obvious and logical (if we think about the Dunning-Kruger in tandem with other psychological effects like the Actor-Observer Bias) that people have an easier time recognizing ignorance in others than in themselves. As a result of this, they will create the illusion that they are above average, even if they are significantly worse than what would be considered average.

Our mind and ego is constantly looking for validation. As a result of this, the Dunning-Kruger effect creates the dangerous paradigm where our mind creates a powerful false sense of knowledge and competency in places that in actuality we have little to none. This is easily observable in open forum discussions concerning topics such as politics, science, someone’s ability to play basketball one on one, and obviously my VAST understanding of what it means to be a financially successful and knowledgeable blogger (Sarcasm if you couldn’t tell).

The Dunning-Kruger effect is extremely common in the work place. The question is, are you the one falling prey to this psychological effect, or is it your co-workers? No one wants to face the possibility that we are very low on the totem poll because lets be honest — that is not a comfortable thought.

Pretty smart guy I guess. ;)

At the end of the day, the Dunning-Kruger effect is at play in all of us. It is basic human psychology and we must constantly be at warfare with it. So what can we do to fight the Dunning-Kruger effect? First, understand the difference between competence, expertise, and mastery. Stop right now and think about the best skill you currently have. Now think about how competent in that said thing you are. Next, think about how good you are compared to how good the average person is at that said thing. Imagine how wide that gap is, because oh, that gap is indeed there. You know nuance. You know all the small details.


Here is the Critical Part.

Realize that you are as ignorant as the average person is in every other area of knowledge in which you are NOT an expert.

Learn to always be skeptical about your knowledge in everything where you are not an expert. Along with this, have humility. Finally, in areas that you are an expert, don’t underestimate yourself. You are probably pretty darn good. There is no reason to be self-deprecating and obnoxiously vocal about how pessimistic you are about your strong-suit skills. Remember, apart of the Dunning-Kruger effect is the idea that those that are above average tend to underestimate themselves. Of course there is always room for improvement.

Oh, and I’ll leave that little seed of doubt that might be in your head that probably sounds like, “What if all of my perceived strong suites are just as a result of the Dunning-Kruger effect?”


Anyways, that is all! Thanks for reading, this was a Blog on the Dunning-Kruger Effect, #3 on Psychological Terms series. Stay tuned for the next one! You can find me on twitter here.


  1. Kruger, Justin; Dunning, David (1999). “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
  2. Dunning, David; Johnson, Kerri; Ehrlinger, Joyce; Kruger, Justin (2003). “Why people fail to recognize their own incompetence” (abstract). Current Directions in Psychological Science.
  3. “Why Losers Have Delusions of Grandeur”. New York Post. 23 May 2010. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  4. Lee, Chris (25 May 2012). “Revisiting why incompetents think they’re awesome”. Arstechnica.com. p. 3.

Of course shout out to Wikipedia for some BASELINE knowledge, as well as NeurologicaBlog.com .

The Tíðr of The Karl Dæma

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Lover of Books, Reading, Knowledge , Wisdom , and Politics. “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right. “ — ”Journalism is now sensationalism” —

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