The Dunning Kruger Effect

Edited and curated by @philhagspiel

If we only know little, we think we know a lot. If we know a lot, we think we only know little.


When we are incompetent at something — either a task or a field of knowledge — we, by definition, lack the skills to assess our own ability properly. If we’re not smart enough to fully grasp the magnitude of the issue at hand, we tend to also not be smart enough to fully grasp our ignorance. This can quickly lead us to overestimate our own competence. We need some expertise to recognize that we lack it.

In contrast, if we are are really good at something, we tend to believe that others must find it equally easy to learn, understand or do that thing — and hence underestimate our own level of competence. Additionally, the more we understand about a particular subject, the more we usually see how much we don't understand yet. This makes the 'known unknown' bigger and thus reinforces our underestimation of our competence.

This is the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It explains why incompetent people think they’re amazing — and why actual experts often are overly cautious. Those who are most certain of their beliefs often are least justified to be.

By being aware of the Dunning Kruger Effect, we can better navigate the daily chaos of opinions, ideas and belief systems.

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”

— Confucius


A few further resources you might like if you find the above idea interesting: