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The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias that causes incompetent people to believe they know more than they think they know.

Unskilled individuals suffer from a false sense of superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is the result of the inability of the unskilled to recognize their own ineptitude.

If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent. The skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.

—David Dunning

Conversely, highly competent individuals tend to underestimate their relative competence, falsely assuming that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.


If this is true (and the research seems to support these conclusions), this explains almost everything.

Ignorant people can’t avoid thinking that they are smart.

Zealots, fanatics, ideologues, judgmental family members, Fox News pundits, preachy douchebags, incompetent politicians, Biblical literalists, New York Jets fans, and the like are trapped in a world where it’s impossible for them realize that they are ignorant because they are ignorant.


This makes their stupidity so much more understandable.

I can see it now:

Some idiot will be spouting off against gay marriage, or trying to explain how vaccines are dangerous, or insisting that backing into a parking spot makes sense. In the past, I might have argued these points. Tried to change the person’s mind. Defended the truth.

Now I will simply nod my head, smile, turn to my wife, and whisper, “Dunning-Kruger. Poor thing.” 

No longer will I have to wonder if a person actually believes the nonsense that he or she is spewing. They do. And they can’t help it, because they are incompetent.

The best part of the Dunning-Kruger effect the man who inspired the initial study. 

McArthur Wheeler was a man who robbed two banks in 1995 after covering his face with lemon juice in the mistaken belief that, as lemon juice is usable as invisible ink, it would prevent his face from being recorded on surveillance cameras.


David Dunning and Justin Kruger heard about this man and wondered how stupidity of that magnitude is even possible.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is how. Poor guy.

No Comments

  1. Rob on October 7, 2017 at 4:31 am

    On the graph, the X-axis says "No Nothing." Try spell check. 😉

    • Matthew Dicks on October 7, 2017 at 10:06 am

      It’s not my graph. It’s an image that I embedded from another source. Spell check would not have helped me here.

      • Jake on April 30, 2018 at 8:44 am

        There was absolutely no way to fix the image. I don’t no nothing about Photoshop, either.

  2. Barry on February 23, 2019 at 10:06 am

    Worse than this is what happens, these days, in lots of cases where people hold alternative views that may go against the dogma of the status quo, especially in cases where there is good reason to be sceptical about the dogma. That is some egomaniac like the author of this little speel gets on his high horse and arrogantly writes off the other party because he himself is too lazy or just not very condescending to consider the others point of view or their person with accusations of cognitive bias. It is extreme highbrowing and also a superficial use of psychological theory as argument fodder. Like people that go round saying ‘He’s’, or ‘She’s’ or ‘I’m really anal about that’ like they know the whole concept and are able to spot diagnose people. People question the status quo when they deem that the facts have been fudged or the dogma is based mainly on appeal to authority, where the details are never put forward or the assumptions of the methodology used to build the position as well as the bias of the researchers. People question the things mentioned in the article as well as other long held positions for these kinds of reasons because they have expertise in the field or because they smell a rat. What we don’t need is a bunch of arrogant, guile fueld pricks spouting, ‘Cognitive bias’, ‘Dunning-Kruger’ or other derogatory terms to let themselves off the hook. Thanks

  3. null dump on May 29, 2019 at 7:24 pm

    \/\/ (case in point.) \/\/

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