What is the Dunning-Kruger effect?

Data and Metrics Data Literacy

Tl;dr: The Dunning-Kruger effect occurs when someone’s lack of knowledge or skill in a certain area causes them to overestimate their own ability. It also causes people who are the most competent to think less of their skill. Self-reflection, objective measures of performance, and getting meaningful feedback can help keep you from falling victim to this effect!

Ever been trapped in the car with someone who sings along to every song on the radio and is just convinced they are ready to audition for The Voice? All the while, you are stuffing your fingers in your ears to tune out that dissonant, rhythmless mess? How about that friend who is a “home gourmet” and every meal they cook turns out burnt, weird, or both?

These may be examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect. This cognitive bias causes us to overestimate our abilities when we lack knowledge and skill and don’t have the insight to know that we could be doing better. Our blind spots allow us to miss our own mistakes and falsely think we are performing better than we actually are. Conversely, Dunning-Kruger can also occur when we are highly skilled at something and incorrectly assume it must be easy for everyone, thereby downplaying our own abilities and believing you are average at something you actually shine in. As we grow in skill, we better understand how much we’ve yet to learn.

Dunning-Kruger can impact us in obvious and not so obvious ways. Each of us has areas that we are not so strong in. Overestimation of skill can result in missed learning opportunities and underestimation can keep good role models out of the limelight. Someone who is least knowledgeable may be amongst the most vocal, spreading misinformation or reinforcing poor choices. We tend to listen to the loudest voice, not necessarily the right one. Dunning-Kruger effects have been shown in games, sports, driving, medical knowledge, financial knowledge, politics, and even emotional intelligence. Misunderstanding one’s own skill sets can put them on a poor financial path, create challenges at work, and damage relationships.

So, how do we avoid the trap of Dunning-Kruger? First, we need to take a good long look at ourselves. We need to identify our own blind spots and give opportunities for thoughtful and meaningful self-reflection. Seek objective feedback on our performance. Did you meet a specific target? How did the outcome compare to someone else? Did that meal you make end up mostly in the trash? 😉

Don’t hesitate to ask for honest feedback from others that addresses both strengths and areas for improvement. Look for ways to learn more and ask questions. Keep an open mind and explore reputable resources that challenge you. Isn’t it great to have room to grow? And, of course, remember to appreciate how far you’ve already come!

Stay safe. Stay well.

Those Nerdy Girls