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What is the Dunning-Kruger effect?

Definition, origin, curve: all about the Dunning-Kruger effect

What is the Dunning-Kruger effect?

To immediately give a synthetic definition, know that the Dunning-Kruger effect corresponds to the excess of self-confidence. It is a cognitive bias, that is to say a distortion of reality, according to which the person who has it thinks he is competent on a subject when he has no qualification. The Dunning-Kruger effect is characterized by the fact that these people are unable to recognize their incompetence.

How was the Dunning-Kruger effect conceptualized?

This concept was born in the late 1990s. The starting point: a person robs American banks thinking he is invisible after smearing himself with lemon juice, which is called invisible ink. This overconfidence surprises two psychologists – David Dunning and Justin Kruger Spar – who then look into the case of this robber and will initiate several experiments leading them to theorize in 1999 what has since been called “the Dunning-Kruger effect”. Psychologists started from a hypothesis thus shaped by the famous Charles Darwin: “Ignorance more frequently generates self-confidence than does knowledge”. A paradoxical theory that will take concrete form in a graph.

How to analyze the Dunning-Kruger curve?

The Dunning-Kruger curve is born from the results of experiments carried out by American psychologists. Its meaning: the beginner displays great confidence unfounded called “self-overvaluation”, as well asan underestimation by experts. He then climbed the “mountain of stupidity”. As he begins to acquire skills, he descends back down to the “valley of humility”. His skills continue to build and his confidence slowly returns, but this time it is based on a realistic self-assessment of his skills. It then reaches the “consolidation plateau” on which it will continue to progress in the area in question. What this pattern reveals is that the incompetent person only recognizes his past incompetence and past shortcomings by significantly improving his knowledge. In the business world, a person may be thought to have Dunning-Kruger syndrome if they join a department and think they know everything better than their colleagues who have worked there for several years. She may consider others as incapable and not understand the interest of certain procedures. Gradually, she will discover the profession and “come down to earth” or gain in humility, a fundamental step to then acquire the necessary skills.

Curve of the Dunning Kruger effect.

Dunning-Kruger, impostor syndrome, ultracrepidarianism: three notions to distinguish

In the business world, we face different and sometimes hilarious personalities. We can indeed note cognitive biases in work meetings that respond to each other. You know colleagues with Dunning-Kruger syndrome, but no doubt you have also met employees who behave in completely opposite ways. When a person does not accept their manager’s congratulations on the grounds that it was a team effort, that they were lucky, or that the manager’s reading is wrong, they are likely suffering from impostor syndrome. The person here is extremely humble, and if this is often less unpleasant for colleagues, this syndrome can have very harmful effects for the employee who suffers from this cognitive bias. While some constantly devalue themselves, others display an irrational confidence. This is the case of narcissistic personalities that can be compared to the Dunning-Kruger syndrome. We also speak of ultracrepidarianism when the collaborator treats with indecent assurance a subject that he is very far from mastering. You know, these are the people who, since the appearance of the coronavirus, begin their sentences with “I am not a doctor, but…”. In business, they have an unfortunate tendency to express themselves instead of real experts.

How to manage an employee with Dunning-Kruger syndrome?

Having integrated into your team a collaborator who obviously turns out to be overestimating his skills poses many problems. The work atmosphere can be degraded because it breaks a certain balance and generates tensions. Depending on his role within the company, he can damage the company’s image and reduce productivity by taking on undeserved and unproductive leadership. The manager must therefore react in order not to let the situation deteriorate. The whole difficulty lies in the fact that this type of profile is not aware of being incompetent. In addition, he finds it very difficult to question himself and finds it difficult to recognize the skills of his colleagues. Also, reprimanding him or sharply contradicting him would not be productive, he would find it unfair. Rather, it is better to patiently show one’s shortcomings by relying on infallible, quantified data. Organize regular feedback will also allow him to face reality more often, which can cause a gradual change in attitude. If so, do not hesitate to encourage his efforts. If that’s not enough, you can Refer him to a training organization in which he should acquire skills. According to the Dunning-Kruger effect, he is then supposed to recognize his past mistakes, especially since his incompetence can be the subject of a coherent discourse between that of his trainer and those of his collaborators and his manager. In the meantime, you can offer him a framework summoning Socrates which synthesizes wonderfully what humility is: “All I know is that I know nothing”.

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