Human psychology is incredibly complex and although the human being is in and of itself an extremely sophisticated organism, which can perform brilliant feats especially in the intellectual field, but he is also far from being flawless. There are several psychological phenomena we stumble over again and again - whether consciously or unconsciously. The Dunning-Kruger effect is one of these phenomena.
What is the Dunning-Kruger effect?
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a psychological phenomenon that explains why we sometimes overestimate our abilities or intelligence. It was first described in 1999 by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, who observed that people with little knowledge about a subject often think they know much more than they actually do. This phenomenon can cause us to be overconfident about our abilities or judgment, leading to mistakes that could have been avoided.
But that's not all: Just as beginners often overestimate themselves immeasurably, people who actually have a sound knowledge in a field tend to be very reserved in debates or even underestimate themselves.
Only at a very high level of knowledge about a topic does the self-assessment and the actual expertise level off.
What is the cause?
The exact cause of the Dunning-Kruger effect is not yet known, but research suggests that it is caused by our limited overview. When we are freshly immersed in a topic, it usually doesn't take long for us to get a rough understanding, but the full depth and complexity remains hidden from us for a long time - but we don't realize it. Knowing this, we may assume that our skills are better than they actually are. This is especially true for those who know very little about a subject because they can't appreciate how much they don't know.
Examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect
This phenomenon is particularly noticeable among beginners, who overestimate their abilities and make decisions based on their limited knowledge, which often leads to momentous mistakes.
Especially during the early days of the Corona pandemic, it became apparent that, despite a low level of expertise, almost everyone began to consider themselves an expert in the field. Especially in the case of unscientific information, this led to sometimes life-threatening behavior and the promotion of misinformation.
A less serious but at least equally well-known example can be observed during major sporting events such as the World Cup: suddenly millions of absolute laymen see themselves as experts and believe they know best which decisions and moves the coaches and players should have made and applied.
Another example is debates between parents and teachers about educational issues - something that has become increasingly common in recent years thanks to the rise of online forums like Reddit and Twitter, where discussions about such topics are commonplace. People who know little about pedagogy thus partly assume that their opinion must carry high weight because they misjudge their expertise.
How can we avoid this effect?
There are several things you can do to keep the Dunning-Kruger effect as small as possible. The most important thing is to educate yourself about the topic at hand so that you better understand not only your own limitations, but also how complex or difficult the task may be. Also, by seeking expert opinions before making a decision, you can ensure that you get accurate information and avoid potential pitfalls associated with overestimating your own knowledge or abilities. And listening carefully to someone else's opinion or perspective on a topic will give you insights into areas you may not have considered because you can learn from another person's experiences and observations.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a powerful psychological phenomenon that explains why some people overestimate their abilities or intelligence in relation to certain subjects. By understanding the causes and effects of the Dunning-Kruger effect, we can take steps to avoid its pitfalls and make better decisions when faced with unfamiliar topics or tasks.
In the following video that I and my good friend Dean made on the subject of Fake News, the Dunning Kruger Effect is also addressed: