Least Skillful Performers May Have Greatest Self-Delusions of Skill: Pointy-Haired Boss Effect

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

The Foole doth thinke he is wise, but the wiseman knowes himselfe to be a Foole,” wrote  William Shakespeare in As You Like It.
Charles Darwin’ decoded this observation with his update: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

Both view are applicable to the workplace and notoriously “clueless” players like Dilbert’s Pointy Haired Boss.

Pointy Haired Boss

Pointy Haired Boss

Incompetent performance often results from ignorance of performance standards in both cognitive skills and physical skills, found Columbia’s David Dunning and Justin Kruger of NYU in a series of experiments.

David Dunning

David Dunning

Volunteers performed humor, grammar, and logic tasks, then viewed their performance scores and again estimated their performance rank.
Competent individuals accurately estimated their rank, whereas incompetent individuals overestimated their ranks despite actual feedback.

Dunning and Kruger posited that incompetent people:

  •          Overestimate their skill levels,
  •          Overlook other people’s skills,
  •          Underestimate their lack of skill in relation to performance standards.
Justin Kruger

Justin Kruger

However, training may reverse this “insight blindness.”
Low-skill individuals in some cases can benefit from corrective feedback and recognize their original lack of skill after they participate in skill training.

The Dunning–Kruger effect describes unskilled individuals’ sense of “illusory superiority,” when they rate their ability as much higher than average although it is actually much lower than average.
In contrast, highly competent individuals miscalibrate other’s performance.

Joyce Ehrlinger

Joyce Ehrlinger

Kerri Johnson

Kerri Johnson

These observations were validated by Washington State University’s Joyce Ehrlinger, Kerri Johnson of UCLA, and Cornell’s Matthew Banner.

People also demonstrate “illusory superiority” when they estimate their ability to identify deception and to infer intentions and emotions (interpersonal sensitivity),  found Columbia’s Daniel R. Ames and Lara K. Kammrath of Wilfrid Laurier University.

Daniel Ames

Daniel Ames

Their results replicated previous findings that most people overestimate their social judgment and mind-reading skills, and showed that people who demonstrate least accurate social judgment and “mind-reading” significantly overestimate their relative competence.

Lara Kamrath

Lara Kamrath

Ames and Kammrath suggested that these inaccurate self-assessments are based “in general narcissistic tendencies toward self-aggrandizement.”

Different tasks elicit differing degrees of the illusory superiority bias, according to University of Michigan’s Katherine A. Burson, Richard P. Larrick of Duke University, University of Chicago’s Joshua Klayman.

Katherine Burson

Katherine Burson

When performing moderately difficult tasks, best and worst performers provided similarly accurate estimates of their skills.
However, when they performed more difficult tasks, best performers provided less accurate skill estimates than worst performers.

Richard Larrick

Richard Larrick

Burson and team proposed that “noise-plus-bias” explains erroneous judgments of personal skill across competence levels.

Dunning and Ehrlinger showed that people’s views of themselves and their skill change when influenced by external cues.
They note that this effect can limit women’s participation in STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).

Joshua Klayman

Joshua Klayman

The team found that women performed equally to men on a science quiz, yet participants underestimated their performance because they assigned low judgments to their general scientific reasoning ability.
This inaccurate underestimate of abilities can dissuade many women from entering STEM careers.

The Dunning–Kruger effect may be culturally limited because one study found that East Asians tend to underestimate their abilities due to norms of humility, and see underachievement as a chance to improve themselves and cooperate with others.

-*How do you mitigate overestimate and underestimates of your skill performance?
-*Where have you seen inaccurate performance estimate affect long-range career achievement?

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