Ever met someone who is so extremely dumb that they don’t know how stupid they actually are?  Ever tried to explain a new concept to someone who clearly doesn’t get it? Well, you’re not alone. Researchers have come up with a theory that explains why the less we know about something, the more confident we are in our ability to master it. So there’s a term for Dumb and Dumber? Yes. And it is more common than you might think. Join us today as we explore the avenues of dumbness, in this episode of the Infographics show – What is the Dunning Kruger effect?  

Named after Cornell University researchers David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a condition in the field of psychology where an intellectually challenged individual fails to adequately assess the extent of their own intelligence (or lack thereof). Armed with an unhealthy bias of illusory superiority, these low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their own mental shortcomings. In other words, they are too stupid to know how stupid they are. In 1999’s study, “Unskilled and Unaware of it,” Dunning and Kruger studied the criminal case of McArthur Wheeler, a bank robber who disguised himself by covering his face with lemon juice.

His rationale being that the chemical properties of lemon juice are used in invisible ink, therefore should render him invisible to the bank security cameras. An easy enough mistake, and one that cost him his freedom. After he was easily caught by the cops, the wannabe thief was shown the video surveillance footage of himself robbing the banks. Genuinely surprised that his plan hadn’t worked, Wheeler was without the required mental capabilities to figure out the gap in his own reasoning. Other investigations followed, and the Dunning Kruger’s 2003 paper “Why do People Fail to Recognize Their Own Incompetence?” (2003) observes the following:

“Successful negotiation of everyday life would seem to require people to possess insight about deficiencies in their intellectual and social skills. However, people tend to be blissfully unaware of their incompetence. This lack of awareness arises because poor performers are doubly cursed: Their lack of skill deprives them not only of the ability to produce correct responses, but also of the expertise necessary to surmise that they are not producing them. People base their perceptions of performance, in part, on their preconceived notions about their skills.”

A good example of the Dunning-Kruger effect in action would be the early audition rounds of a talent show open to the fame-crazy public. British Pop-star wannabe Warren Wald became a mini-celebrity when he auditioned for the show Pop Idol in 2003 with a rendition of the 1980s track Eye of The Tiger.

He sang the song so badly that the public adored him. Warren, who led a simple life, suddenly became a tabloid newspaper sensation. He gave interviews on television and radio, and the youtube clip of him singing went viral. Warren had no apparent idea just how badly he sang until the nature of his fame came to light. When the penny dropped, Warren realized he was being celebrated for his guts and determination rather than his promise as a vocalist. His singing career is currently on hold. The public does have a tendency to champion underdogs and this tends to reinforce the Dunning-Kruger effect.      

Studies have shown that the Dunning-Kruger effect is not limited to the mentally challenged. High performing individuals can also overestimate their abilities. In fact, most of us do it, a lot of the time. The way to break out of the habit takes bravery and a level of humility that is uncommon in most people. We have to ask for feedback from a trusted source and be prepared for an honest response.

So if you feel you have a talent for singing, perhaps test your theory on a few honest people before appearing on national TV. What we now call the Dunning-Kruger effect is what the scientists used to call metacognition – thinking about thinking. Perhaps the less we know about a topic, and the simpler it appears, the easier it is to ascribe some sort of understanding of it. We must be careful. We could well be one of the many Dunning-Kruger sufferers walking around blissfully ignorant of our ignorance.   

So what’s the dumbest thing you’ve watched somebody do? Were they aware they were doing it or were they blissfully ignorant? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video called What Are the Signs That You Are a Psychopath? Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!

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