Why are the most irritatingly ignorant people also the most sure of their opinions?
It’s the D-K effect…
You wouldn’t surprise if I told you that many stupid people think they are smart. But let’s be clear, self-confidence is crucial for human survival and is part of our evolutionary development as a species. But there is a famous adage: “The more you know, the less you think you know — and the less you know, the more you think you know...”
In psychology, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive deviation from “the norm” where people with low ability overestimate their ability. But there is also a reverse effect that materializes when highly competent people underestimate their ability/performance (they put undue pressure on themselves, for example, to pass exams or get good grades) and this in turn gets them more qualified so even less sure of themselves.
Dunning and Kruger initially set out to test an hypothesis of ‘illusory superiority’ but what they actually found surprised them. They discovered that some of their subjects both overestimated and also underestimated their own abilities. Rather than confirming the original hypothesis i.e. inferior people believe themselves to be superior — in fact their test subjects were often (equally) susceptible to underestimating their intellectual capacity as they were to exaggerating it. Basically, it was established that when taken as a whole, the general population perceives itself as close to average.
So Donald Trump (to take a random example) suggests that his two biggest assets are: “My mental stability and being, like, really smart…” But he’s also likely to riff something along the lines of: “I’m not a doctor … I’m a person who has a good you-know-what…” (while pointing to his head).
Perhaps, on some level, we all struggle with some kind of internal D-K because expectation (and ego) are the main drivers of intellect and expression. If we do not develop overt self-confidence, it is very likely that we will fail in our chosen tasks. It has even been asserted that suggesting some people suffer from the D-K effect — while others do not — is like saying that some people suffer from fear, while others don’t.
So, be aware of your inner D-K and try not to let superiority/inferiority take over… Maintain the balance!
Words: @neilmach 2020 ©
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