While this may not be news to most of us, there is real scientific data that shows why smart people underestimate themselves while ignorant people think they’re just plain brilliant.
The Dunning–Kruger effect is the title of a psychological bias where certain individuals mistakenly assess their ability and talents to be greater than is accurate. This is due to an inability recognize their ineptitude. Said simply, these people are too dumb to know how dumb they truly are. On the other hand, there are many highly skilled individuals tend to underestimate their how good they truly are. They erroneously assuming that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.
This was the subject of a study by David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University in 1999, that was inspired by the case of McArthur Wheeler, a man who robbed two banks after covering his face with lemon juice in the mistaken belief that, because lemon juice is usable as invisible ink, it would prevent his face from being recorded on surveillance cameras.
As a part of their study, Dunning and Kruger showed that incompetent people will:
- fail to recognize their own lack of skill,
- fail to recognize genuine skill in others,
- fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy,
- recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill.
Their thesis has been independently tested four times, and the researchers have found the same conclusion each time.
So next time someone just doesn’t get it, don’t curse them out, correct them or even wonder what’s wrong with them. Just smile and think “Dunning–Kruger Effect.”
From Kruger, Justin; Dunning, David (1999). “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77 (6): 1121–34. doi:10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1681. PMID 10626367. CiteSeerX: 10.1.1.64.2655.