how Dunning met Kruger

Here is a really fascinating interview with David Dunning, of Dunning-Kruger Effect fame. As a taste, the incident that inspired Dunning:

Wheeler had walked into two Pittsburgh banks and attempted to rob them in broad daylight. What made the case peculiar is that he made no visible attempt at disguise. The surveillance tapes were key to his arrest. There he is with a gun, standing in front of a teller demanding money. Yet, when arrested, Wheeler was completely disbelieving. “But I wore the juice,” he said. Apparently, he was under the deeply misguided impression that rubbing one’s face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to video cameras.

He’d done tests.


  1. Cian

    Okay, but if you think you’re incompetent at something does that mean you’re actually fairly competent? Or are we all incompetent, but a sign of partial competence is at least recognising it.

    • yorksranter

      Cian, the answer is in the original paper, or if you prefer, in my original post.

      In the original experiment, the worst 12 per cent of students rated themselves on average in the top 38 per cent, and the delta between actual and perceived competence reduced as you looked at more competent people. However, it reduced faster than competence increased; the most competent group actually self-assessed as being less competent than they were.

      So yes – being aware of your fallibility is the mark of expertise.

  2. Cian

    Sorry I should have flagged that as a joke, as I have actually read the paper. Plus I’ve seen it enacted in all kinds of dismal ways over the years.

    But it could get really recursive. I tend to think I’m crap at most things, but then I know the Dunning result. So am I really brilliant, or is just my over-inflated ego adapting to new data. But now that I’ve considered this…etc. Diverting for at least 5 minutes.

    More prosaically, people also tend to respond most positively to people who give the appearance of expertise/knowledge/skill. Given that those people are the one’s most likely to be incompetent, what does that say for the future prospects of the human race.




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