Or “a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area”
This year, I’m celebrating my tenth year in the publishing business. But my experience, when I think long and hard about it, sometimes feels inadequate or I end up questioning my abilities through the course of a new project regardless of the outcome (impostor syndrome maybe?).
Impostor Syndrome or perhaps occasional bouts of self-doubt can affect anyone, but is more common among women. It is said that 70% of women, no matter how accomplished and successful they are, by their own definition of the terms, will struggle with this demon of a syndrome at some point in their lives. Natalie Portman, for example, felt that it was a mistake that she got into Harvard, saying, “I felt like…I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company, and that every time I opened my mouth I would have to prove that I wasn’t just a dumb actress.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are those who either suffer from overconfidence or those who “wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area.” The latter is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?
The concept is based on a paper by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. They tested participants on logic, grammar and sense of humor and found that those who performed in the bottom self-rated their skills far beyond above average. “Those with limited knowledge in a domain suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach mistaken conclusions and make regrettable errors, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it,” the researchers wrote.
Unsurprisingly, the effect isn’t just observed among incompetent persons; “it also applies to people with a seemingly solid knowledge base.”
How does it occur?
It’s when an individual gains a small amount of or surface-level knowledge on something he or she was previously ignorant about and suddenly think they are experts on the matter. By that it means they think they know more than they do.
But as with anything, mastery comes with continuous exploration of a subject or topic. You have to do something long enough to realize how extensive it is and how much there is to learn. And the learning doesn’t really stop because everything, be it industries or people, continues to evolve.
The Dunning-Kruger blindspot
The biggest takeaway? We not only learn from experience, we gain insight from observing the behavior of our confident and successful acquaintances and peers. Meanwhile individuals with the effect are unable to recognize competence or greatness thus, they can’t learn from others. They can’t improve. They stay as they are, forever.
Okay, maybe not forever. There is apparently hope for that challenging human being you are friends with/ work with/ live with who think they know better than those who really know.
A shot of the truth
When, but it didn’t exactly say how, one is able to admit that they are not good at or lacking at something, they stop being so bad at it because they’ll ~hopefully~ work towards fixing it.
Here’s what might help—especially if you suspect you yourself might be suffering from the Dunning-Kruger Effect: get to really know your peers or the people you work with and what they are doing. If you can tell who is bullshitting and who isn’t, then maybe you yourself know what you’re doing. Be inquisitive, do some of your own research if it helps. But if you can’t tell when others are bullshitting you, it’s a sign you might need to do even more extensive research on your new hobby, new role at work or whatever it is you’re learning.
Dealing with those who suffer from such effect? That’s for another story. In the meantime, just nod and smile.
Art Alexandra Lara