Tag Archives: David Dunning

Confident Cluelessness = The Dunning-Kruger Effect + Ignorant Bliss

Stav Atir

Stav Atir

Most people overestimate their own expertise, and do not recognize their own incompetence.
previous blog post highlighted this metacognition phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

This effect has been demonstrated for people’s overestimates of their skills in grammar, emotional intelligence, logical reasoning, firearm care and safety, debating, and financial acumen.

Emily Rosenzweig

Emily Rosenzweig

More recently, the effect was demonstrated by Cornell’s Stav Atir and  Emily Rosenzweig of Tulane,  who asked volunteers if they were familiar with concepts like centripetal force and photon as well as fictitious terms including plates of parallax, ultra-lipid, and cholarine.

About 90% of participants claimed some knowledge of at least one of the nine fake concepts, and people who thought they were most knowledgeable also said they recognized more of the meaningless terms.

David Dunning

David Dunning

Atir and Rosenzweig concluded that poor performers lack insight about their lack of skill because they ”don’t know what they don’t know.”

Another verification of the Dunning-Kruger effect was replicated among volunteers who completed a logical reasoning task, an intuitive physics problem, a financial acumen challenge, and others presented by University of California San Diego’s Elanor Williams, Justin Kruger of NYU, and Cornell’s David Dunning.

Elanor Williams

Elanor Williams

Some people achieved perfect scores, and expressed confidence in their answers, yet those who achieved no correct answers expressed the same degree of confidence as the most able performers.

Both high and low achievers made judgments based on intuitive “rules,” so they felt confident based on having a clear, if inaccurate, rationale.
Williams’ team concluded, “Rule-based confidence is no guarantee of self-insight into performance.”

Justin Kruger

Justin Kruger

Another “cringe-worthy” example is financial illiteracy accompanied by high confidence in financial acumen among people who filed for bankruptcy.

More than 25,000 people rated their financial knowledge, then tested actual financial literacy in the 2012 National Financial Capability Study, conducted by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority with the U.S. Treasury.
Of these, 800 respondents said they filed bankruptcy within the previous two years.

Not surprisingly, bankruptcy filers achieved financial knowledge scores in the lowest third of respondents, but they rated their knowledge more positively than financially-solvent respondents.
Nearly a quarter of the recently bankrupted respondents gave themselves the highest possible rating whereas only 13 percent of other respondents were equally confident.

Deborah Keleman

Deborah Keleman

Even 80 physical scientists at top universities provided a number of inaccurate purpose-driven (“teleological”) explanations about “why things happen” in the natural world, including:

  • “Moss forms around rocks in order to stop soil erosion,”
  • “The Earth has an ozone layer in order to protect it from UV light.”
Joshua Rottman

Joshua Rottman

Participants provided these explanations at their own speed or with ambitious time constraints.
When these professional scientists provided rushed explanations, they were twice as likely to endorse inaccurate purpose-driven rationales, reported Boston University’s Deborah Kelemen, Joshua Rottman, and Rebecca Seston.

Rebecca Seston

Rebecca Seston

In addition, scientists were equally likely as humanities scholars to endorse teleological arguments despite most physical scientists’ rejection of purpose-driven explanations for natural phenomena.

However, these results suggest that teleological propositions are a default explanatory preference among humans, and could explain their presence in myth and religion across cultures.

These results suggest that most people hold a positive view of their capabilities even when faced with contrary evidence.
However, some groups, such as women, may hold an unrealistically modest view of capabilities despite affirming feedback.
These biases in self assessment point to the importance of realistic recalibration of confidence, aligned with consensual feedback.

-*How do you minimize the risks of “Clueless Confidence”?
-*How can systematic underestimates of competence be reduced to increase “Realistic Confidence”?

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“Honest Confidence” Enables Performance, Perceived Power

Confidence mobilizes people’s performance and increases others’ perceptions of competence, likeability, and persuasiveness – but may lead to careless errors that undermine performance.

David Dunning

David Dunning

Women and men show significantly different levels of confidence, with cascading effects on performance and participation in specific occupations.

For example women tend to underestimate their performance in scientific reasoning, but actually perform about equally to men, found Cornell’s David Dunning and Washington State University psychologist Joyce Ehrlinger in their investigation of women’s low representation in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) academic programs and work roles.
They concluded that women underestimate their performance, based on lower levels of confidence.

Joyce Ehrlinger

Joyce Ehrlinger

In a related tasks, Dunning and Ehrlinger invited these volunteers to participate in a science competition for prizes.
Women were less likely to accept the invitation than men, also attributed to lower confidence in their capabilities in scientific tasks.
The researchers pointed to low confidence as a source of women’s proportionally lower participation in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) job roles.

Jessica Kennedy

Jessica Kennedy

Confidence – even unjustified confidence – seems to lead  observers to perceive assured individuals as competent, high status leaders, found Wharton’s  Jessica A. Kennedy, Cameron Anderson of University of California at Berkeley, and Don A. Moore.

Cameron Anderson

Cameron Anderson

They asked more than 240 students to estimate their confidence in identifying “historical” names and events, which included real and bogus entries.
Some participants said they could identify items that were actually fake, indicating that they believed – or wanted to convey – they knew more than they actually did.

Don A Moore

T Don A Moore

Then, Kennedy and team asked participants to rate each other based on status in the group.
Volunteers who said they could identify the most fraudulent items were rated as most prominent in the group, suggesting that confidence, even false confidence, contributes to perceived status.
The team suggested that overconfident volunteers genuinely believed their self-assessments, their confidence persuaded their peers of their task skill and commitment to the group’s success.

Ernesto Reuben

Ernesto Reuben

Honest overconfidence,” was also observed by Ernesto Reuben of Columbia, Paola Sapienza of Northwestern University, and University of Chicago’s Luigi Zingales, in their finding that men rated their performance on a set of math problems to be about 30 percent better than it was, whereas women underestimated their performance.

Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck

The power of honest and unjustified confidence may be rooted in childhood socialization patterns, observed Stanford’s Carol Dweck:  Boys’ mistakes are attributed to a lack of effort (whereas)…girls … see mistakes as a reflection of their deeper qualities.”
These different types of feedback lead men to attribute negative outcomes to external factors like unfairly difficult task, but women attribute undesirable results to their personal qualities like low ability.

Confidence is reflected in employees’ willingness to speak in work settings, and those who speak more than others are considered dominant.
However, women who exert authority by speaking more than others, even when they are in senior organizational levels, may alienate others and be seen as less capable.

Victoria Brescoll

Victoria Brescoll

Yale’s Victoria Brescoll found that even senior-level women hesitate to speak as much senior-level men due to anticipated negative reaction from others.

These concerns were validated by Brescolls investigation of men’s and women’s rating of a fictitious female CEO who talked more than other people.
Both women and men evaluated the female CEO as significantly less competent and less suited to leadership than a male CEO who talked for the same amount of time.
However, when the female CEO was described as talking less than others, participants rated her as significantly more competent.

Roger Shepard

Roger Shepard

Similarly, a high-power male who talked much less was evaluated as incompetent and undeserving of leadership, just like the high-power female who spoke more than average.
Brescoll suggested that these reactions are associated with stereotypic gender expectations.

Roger Shepard-Jacqueline MetzlerAs a result, women are unlikely to increase confidence, perceived status and power by speaking and behaving like men because this approach would violate gender stereotype expectations, leading to a “backlash” effect.

Zachary Estes

Zachary Estes

However, when women are “primed” to experience confidence, they performed better on 3D rotation spatial tasks in Roger Shepard and Jacqueline Metzler’s Mental Rotations Test, reported University of Warwick’s Zachary Estes and Sydney Felker, then of University of Georgia Health Center.

In one set of tests, women and men performed similarly when women and men again completed each item and reported their:
Confidence level in their answers,
-Whether they would change their responses if given the opportunity.

Women’s performance dropped below previous scores whereas men’s increased significantly when they elected to change answers.
Second-guessing” and “over-thinking” eroded women’s confidence which affected their scores.

Albert Bandura

Albert Bandura

People who have a strong sense of efficacy focus their attention on analyzing and figuring out solutions to problems, whereas those beset with self-doubts of their efficacy tend to turn their attention inwardly and become self-preoccupied with evaluative concerns when their efforts prove unsuccessful,” explained Stanford’s Albert Bandura and Forest Jourdan.

Robert K Merton

Robert K Merton

However, both men and women significantly improved their scores after they were told that they achieved high scores on the previous test irrespective of actual score.
This finding demonstrates the performance-enhancing effect of positive expectancy, and replicated “The Rosenthal Effect,” or “self-fulfilling prophecy,” described by Robert K. Merton of Columbia.

Jeffrey Vancouver

Jeffrey Vancouver

Confidence may have performance-eroding effects despite much previous research documenting performance-enhancing effects, according to Ohio University’s Jeffrey Vancouver and Charles Thompson, with University of Cincinnati’s E. Casey Tischner, and Dan Putka of Human Resources Research Organization.

Dan Putka

Dan Putka

They primed confidence or “self-efficacy” among half the participants in an analytic game, and found that those who received positive feedback about their performance didn’t perform as well in the next game, and were more likely to make logical errors.

Vancouver and team suggested that participants whose confidence was artificially-inflated tended to apply less mental effort to challenging tasks before attempting the next item.

Fortunately, actual skill trumps inflated confidence.
Women considering technical training and careers may be reassured by Kennedy and team’s observation that, “…Acting capable was beneficial, but actually being capable was better.”

However, these findings suggest that women aspiring to STEM careers are likely to be more effective when they create a “hybrid” style of communication and professional presence, drawing on behaviors that demonstrate confidence, competence, and proactivity without violating gender-linked expectations.

-*How do you capitalize on the performance-enhancing effects of confidence without alienating others or reducing future performance efforts?

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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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Confidence Enables Persistence Enables Performance

Brian J. Lucas

Brian J. Lucas

People consistently underestimated the number of creative ideas they could generate if they continued working on a task, particularly on subjectively difficult innovation challenges, found Northwestern’s Brian J. Lucas and Loran F. Nordgren.

Loran Nordgren

Loran Nordgren

People who were undaunted by difficult tasks were more able to persist in developing novel ideas, and their work produced both more ideas and higher quality of innovations than they predicted.
This research suggests the benefits of “grit”, described by University of Pennsylvania’s Angela Duckworth as perseverance and passion for goals, particularly long-term objectives.

Angela Duckworth

Angela Duckworth

In Lucas and Nordgren’s research, more than 20 volunteers had 10 minutes to generate as many original ideas as possible for things to eat or drink at a U.S. Thanksgiving dinner.
Then, external judges evaluated responses for originality and suggestions rated “above average” were eligible to win a $50 lottery.

Volunteers took a break from idea generating, and estimated the number of ideas they expected to generate with another 10 minutes’ effort before they continued the idea development task.
External raters judged ideas developed in the second work phase as significantly more original than those in the initial session.

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 5.14.56 PMThese results were replicated with professional comedy performers from SketchFest, the largest sketch comedy festival in the U.S.
Performers received a comedic scene set-up such as “Four people are laughing hysterically onstage. Two them high five, and everyone stops laughing immediately and someone says….”

Their task was to create as many endings as they could during four minutes and to
predict the number of endings they would develop with during an additional four minutes work time.

These professional comedians also significantly underestimated the number of ideas they would develop with on their second attempt, suggesting persistent undervaluation even among experts.
When a task seems challenging, “people decrease their expectations about how well they will perform,” argued Lucas and Norgren, even though “creative thought is a trial-and-error process that generally produces a series of failed associations before a creative solution emerges.”

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison

These findings indicate that negative expectations can reduce persistence, leading to performance below potential.
They confirm Thomas Edison’s assertion that “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to success is always to try just one more time.”

This effect was also demonstrated in comparisons of people’s numeric competency including:

  • Objective numeracy, or ability to work with numbers: “If the chance of getting a disease is 10 percent, how many people would be expected to get the disease out of 1000?
  • Subjective numeracy, a self-evaluation of math abilities: “How good are you at working with percentages?”;
    How often do you find numerical information to be useful?
  • Symbolic-number mapping abilities, or predicting and understanding numeric relationships such as a carpenter estimating the amount of wood needed for a project.
Ellen J. Peters

Ellen J. Peters

More than 110 volunteers completed tasks including remembering numbers paired to different objects, then evaluating bets based on risk.
People lower in subjective numeracy and confidence had more negative emotional reactions to numbers and were less motivated and confident in numeric tasks, reported Ohio State’s Ellen Peters with Pär Bjälkebring of University of Gothenburg.

Pär Bjälkebring

Pär Bjälkebring

This negative reaction to quantitative tasks presents significant challenges for those who still need to complete tasks like preparing annual personal income tax forms and expense reimbursement reports.

These studies replicated findings that people are not the best judges of their own skills: In fact, one in five people who said they were not good at math actually scored in the top half of an objective math test.

David Dunning

David Dunning

Conversely, one-third of people who said they were good at math actually scored in the bottom half, validating the Dunning-Kruger effect when incompetent individuals overestimating performance despite feedback.

Justin Kruger

Justin Kruger

Persistence in creative as well as tactical tasks can lead to more plentiful and higher quality results than abandoning difficult efforts.

-*How do you maintain persistence during challenging tasks?
-*How do you verify that your self-perceptions align with actual performance and other’s perceptions?

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