Our understanding of the human brain is constantly expanding. Yet, there have been many missteps in the past. In the 1880s, a popular subject for scientists to explore was Phrenology, measuring the skull to determine mental faculties.
Today, we couldn’t publish article that we found fascinating because we could not get sufficient facts. It’s not easy to accept that what one thinks isn’t true and rarely does one search out facts that disproves our beliefs. In fact, most commonly, people search our information that supports their beliefs, a disposition called “conformation bias.”
There is a sense of the internet as a unifying force, creating a forum for diverse information and viewpoints. Yet, while the internet allows the curious to discover most anything they search out, most people tend towards clustering in like minded groups, a behavior known as homophily.
Do we use only ten percent of our brain? It is a frequent conceit of advertisements, science fiction, and general trivia. Yet, In the course of a day, we use 100% of our brains.
There are many misconceptions in the world. It is understandable: we don’t have enough time in the day to question every single factoid that comes our way. Yet, this adds up into some pretty inaccurate perspectives based on the assumption of “truths” that are incomplete, inaccurate, or downright false.
While one blog can’t fix the world, we thought we might pick our battles and advocate just one piece of lesser known knowledge each week. Maybe, if we could get a group of people to take one fact and tweet about it, share it on Facebook, or just talk to friends about it, the the world might just be a little more aware.
We put a lot of thought into what should be our first subject and came back to why we think knowledge is important. This week, we will be promoting the concept of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect is the term given to a cognitive bias where people with limited knowledge have an unfounded sense of superiority.
A cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognative inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.
Basically, the less we know, the less we are aware of our limitations.
The study of this bias was introduce by the titular David Dunning and Justin Kruger after Dunning came across a surprising story of a failed robbery. As related by Dunning, this robber believed himself safe from being identified by police so long as he covered his face in lemon juice. He had even performed tests that lead him to conclude that he would not appear in photographs so long as he was covered in lemon juice. Dunning was stunned by the possibility that this man knew so little about robbery (and photography) as to have an unfounded belief in his own ability to successfully commit a robbery. As a New York Times reporter summed it up: “his stupidity protected him from an awareness of his own stupidity.”
Shortly after reading of this story, Dunning and Kruger performed the first test of what became known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. In their resulting paper, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties of Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessments”, Dunning and Kruger assert “When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.”
Learning that we might not be as smart as we think we are might be a tough pill to swallow. But knowing to question our assertions and gain greater knowledge helps us avoid making the same mistakes as Dunning’s robber.*
Thus, knowledge is not only power, but a “break” on our “vehicle to action” to highlight when you do not have enough knowledge to proceed.
1 Justin Kruger and David Dunning, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties of Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessments,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1999, vol. 77, no. 6, pp. 1121-1134.
2 Morris, Errol. “The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is (Part 1).” Editorial. New York Times 20 June 2010: n. pag.Opinionator The Anosognosics Dilemma Somethings Wrong but Youll Never Know What It Is Part 1 Comments. Web. 07 July 2013.
The paper that started it all: Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties of Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessments.
The New York Times opinion piece that breaks it down (seriously, Errol Morris is an awesome guy in his own right and here he is looking at a stunning concept) The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is.
The Internet, as a whole, has compiled a great article on Wikipedia.
* But please, don’t use knowledge to rob banks. Thanks.