“The seemingly straightforward task of judging one’s knowledge may not be so simple”
In just a few decades, the wide web has grown from a user-base of zero to nearly half of the planet. Over 3 billion people now have instant access to more knowledge and information than in any other point in history.
One downside, however, to the information revolution is the spread of ‘half-knowledge‘, the tendency for people to claim to they are an ‘expert’, when in fact they only possess a moderate amount of knowledge in a particular field.
This cognitive bias was first observed in 1999 and is known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Through a number of research studies, scientists suggest that: “The more you know about a subject, the more likely you are to believe made-up facts from that field”
The DK effect also finds the opposite is true. That is, genuine experts tend to underestimate their own knowledge.
You’re not as smart as you think you are
Named after two scientists from Cornell University – David Dunning and Justin Kruger – this psychological phenomenon explains why novices in a field are so amazed when they are wrong; while experts tend to be pleasantly surprised when they are correct. This video below provides a fun way to understand this thinking bias.
Explaining the Dunning-Kruger effect
When someone begins to explore a new field of knowledge, they’re usually full of enthusiasm, but completely unaware of how much they don’t know or understand yet. They’re confident about their new knowledge and believe that they can make sense of new information quickly.
On the other hand, if a person continues to obtain in-depth knowledge in the same field, they slowly realise how vast the field actually is. The more they learn, the more they are humbled by how much they don’t know. Hence, real experts are often hesitant about making definitive statements.
Our gullible nature
Another outcome of the DK effect is overclaiming. This happens when people distort the truth by claiming to know more about their field of expertise than they actually do.
Stav Atir, who led a study on overclaiming discovered that self-proclaimed financial experts were more likely to say they had heard of bogus terms such as ‘pre-rated stocks‘, ‘fixed-rate deduction‘ and ‘annualized credit’.
Away from the lab, overclaiming can be seen on Jimmy Kimmel’s Lie Witness News. The show is a funny but cringeworthy look at the lengths people go to to maintain their self-perceived ‘expertise’
Lie Witness News is funny because we believe that people who overestimate their knowledge deserve to be taken down a peg or two. But don’t laugh too heartily. Next time it might be you who succumbs.
Human have a powerful urge to assign meaning to events, and to derive rules and conclusions about the observations we make. When this natural tendency is coupled with partial knowledge, it is all too easy to fall victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect.