Low performers are unable to recognize the skill and competence levels of other people, which is part of the reason why they consistently view themselves as better, more capable, and more knowledgeable than others.
“In many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious,” wrote David Dunning in an article for Pacific Standard. “Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.” Hmm, does that sound like anyone you know? You, perhaps? If you say “yes” you are probably much more intelligent than those who would say “no, that doesn’t apply to me.” Why? Everyone tends to project their thoughts and feelings on to others; if you think “I can stand to learn more” and you assume others harbor similar thoughts, you will be oriented to learning. When will you learn that many others are not?
The Dunning-Kruger effect is also related to difficulties with metacognition, or the ability to step back and look at one’s own behavior and abilities from outside of oneself. People are often only able to evaluate themselves from their own limited and highly subjective point of view. From this limited perspective they seem highly skilled, knowledgeable, and superior to others. Because of this, people sometimes struggle to have a more realistic view of their own abilities. Other factors that can contribute to the effect include our use of heuristics, or mental shortcuts that allow us to make decisions quickly, and our tendency to seek out patterns even where none exist. Our minds are primed to try to make sense of the disparate array of information we deal with on a daily basis.
This list of a few of the most common types of cognitive biases that can distort your thinking came from Verywellmind.com:
- Confirmation Bias: This is favoring information that conforms to your existing beliefs and discounting evidence that does not conform.
- Availability Heuristic: This is placing greater value on information that comes to your mind quickly. You give greater credence to this information and tend to overestimate the probability and likelihood of similar things happening in the future.
- Halo Effect: Your overall impression of a person influences how you feel and think about his or her character. This especially applies to physical attractiveness influencing how you rate their other qualities.
- Self-Serving Bias: This is the tendency to blame external forces when bad things happen and give yourself credit when good things happen. When you win a poker hand it is due to your skill at reading the other players and knowing the odds, while when you lose it is due to getting dealt a poor hand.
- Attentional Bias: This is the tendency to pay attention to some things while simultaneously ignoring others. When making a decision on which car to buy, you may pay attention to the look and feel of the exterior and interior, but ignore the safety record and gas mileage.
- Actor-Observer Bias: This is the tendency to attribute your own actions to external causes while attributing other people’s behaviors to internal causes. You attribute your high cholesterol level to genetics while you consider others to have a high level due to poor diet and lack of exercise.
- Functional Fixedness: This is the tendency to see objects as only working in a particular way. If you don’t have a hammer, you never consider that a big wrench can also be used to drive a nail into the wall. You may think you don’t need thumbtacks because you have no corkboard on which to tack things, but not consider their other uses. This could extend to people’s functions, such as not realizing a personal assistant has skills to be in a leadership role.
- Anchoring Bias: This is the tendency to rely too heavily on the very first piece of information you learn. If you learn the average price for a car is a certain value, you will think any amount below that is a good deal, perhaps not searching for better deals. You can use this bias to set the expectations of others by putting the first information on the table for consideration.
- Misinformation Effect: This is the tendency for post-event information to interfere with the memory of the original event. It is easy to have your memory influenced by what you hear about the event from others. Knowledge of this effect has led to a mistrust of eyewitness information.
- False Consensus Effect: This is the tendency to overestimate how much other people agree with you.
- Optimism Bias: This bias leads you to believe that you are less likely to suffer from misfortune and more likely to attain success than your peers.
My next post will apply this information to the classroom and politics.