Decades ago, a man in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania robbed a bank while having lemon juice smeared on his face. His reasoning was that because lemon juice is an ingredient in invisible ink, the juice would make his face invisible. He was so sure of his plan, that he made a confident gesture towards a security camera on the way out. Later, after the man was apprehended, he reportedly exclaimed, “But I wore the juice!”
Taking note of the incident, a couple researchers decided to study just why people who were not very smart believe themselves to be brilliant. The phenomenon that the two studied would later come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.
So, what is the Dunning-Kruger effect? The Dunning-Kruger effect describes the tendency of people with insubstantial ability to think highly of their ability.
One example is with bad drivers. We know who the bad drivers are: they’re the ones that drive fast and weave through traffic, a recipe for collisions. Yet, they tend to believe that this behavior makes them good drivers, and that in the event that they get into (cause) an accident, they’d just be good drivers having a moment.
Another example is the tendency of people today to believe themselves to be scientifically-minded, for having benefited from the advancements that others have made. In reality, few such people have ever conducted a repeatable study in a controlled environment which was subsequently peer-reviewed. Using smartphones doesn’t make you a genius.
There are many, many other examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect that one can think of. It can be apparent in the following quips:
- “My tech-savviness is expressed through the ownership of a smart watch.”
- “I feel the course won’t be a major challenge, judging by the first few pages of the textbook.”
- “I’d have this “parenting” thing down. University of YouTube FTW!”
- “Who needs manscaping when you have plenty of Axe Body Spray?”
In many cases, the Dunning-Kruger effect is observed when a person who is inept lacks the introspection necessary to perceive their own ineptitude.
Conversely, as a person studies more in a field of knowledge, they tend to come to a better understanding of just how little they really know, which may have to do with the tendency of the more capable to sell themselves short.
Recently, the Dunning-Kruger effect has come to the awareness of many people who have afterwards attempted to use it as a clever way to explain to another person that they’re not as smart as they think they are. A person attempting this should take care to define the Dunning-Kruger effect properly, so as to avoid a certain irony that could otherwise result.