Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Another one who misunderstands the Dunning-Kruger effect

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The Dunning-Kruger effect occurs when a person’s ignorance of a field is so great that they lack even enough knowledge to realize how ignorant they are. Victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect will often make pronouncements that reveal the depth of their ignorance: blunders that anyone with some knowledge of the subject will realize are howlers. Moreover, the pronouncements are made with great confidence, since the speaker has no clue to how ignorant s/he is, and confidence can be very convincing (cf. Donald Trump).

What is curious is that you will often see people, particularly intelligent people,  attribute the effect to stupidity rather than ignorance: instead of the DK effect being caused by a deficit of knowledge, they claim it is caused by a deficit of intelligence. (This misstatement in fact seems to be an example of the DK effect.) The speaker is implicitly saying, “The DK effect happens only to stupid people, but I am intelligent, so I am immune from the DK effect.”

For example, in this article in Raw Story, Bobby Azarian explores the cognitive problem that enables people to accept whatever Donald Trump is currently claiming. He explains the DK effect fairly well, but then summarizes: “Essentially, they’re not smart enough to realize they’re dumb.” So he views the DK effect purely as the result of low intelligence, so that “smart” people are protected by their intelligence and thus will never fall prey to the effect.

This statement is completely wrong: the Dunning-Kruger effect is caused by a lack of knowledge, not intelligence. It’s unfortunately not uncommon for brilliant people to opine about things outside their area of knowledge and make statements and claims that are completely wrong, and (to anyone who has some knowledge in that area) obviously wrong. But the error is not obvious to the speaker, however intelligent he or she is, because the speaker’s ignorance prevents him (or her) from recognizing the error. Not only that, their ignorance is so great in that area that they don’t even recognize that they are ignorant: they believe in fact that they know that are quite well and that there’s not that much to it.

We all are born totally ignorant, and life consists of gradually reducing that ignorance. In some areas we make great inroads against our ignorance—those areas that we study and practice—but however much progress we make in one or several fields, we remain ignorant in many more, and thus subject to the DK effect, regardless of our intelligence, in those areas.

It’s unpleasant to realize that, even though we are intelligent, we can fall into the trap of saying things that make us look foolish if we’re offering opinions on topics in which our ignorance is so great we don’t know that we’re ignorant. Blind to our ignorance, we can stumble into obvious errors, and if we think we’re automatically protected by our intelligence, we fail to on our guard. The DK effect can hit anyone.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 August 2016 at 9:07 am

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