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Personal Logs... Dunning Kruger Effect

Updated: Apr 15, 2023


If you spend any time at all on social media trying to debate someone you have likely had this theory thrown at you many times. I know I have.

It is a favorite tactic for ignorant people to dismiss what they do not want to hear or see.

So, what is it?

For that, let's go right to the source.

Here is the problem as I see it.

Dunning Kruger is a theory I have never put any stock into. It is far too vague in my opinion both in its methodology and conclusions.

All it shows is that we humans (as a species) are prone to overconfidence.

I recently read an article in Psychology Today that I thought summed up my own thoughts pretty well, (the author also has creds) so I am going to use some excerpts from that article.

(All Quotes)

The effect states that people who know the least about a topic are the most overconfident about that topic while people who know the most tend to be more humble and accurate in their self-assessment. It seems intuitively right, and it’s often a way to undercut people who present their opinions and arguments with "absolute certainty" that they’re right. The only problem is that the Dunning-Kruger effect itself is wrong.

(I highly recommend checking out the links provided by the author for added context and methodology)

Discussion about the Dunning-Kruger effect recently surfaced online in response to a blog post in which a blogger contacted a statistically savvy psychologist at George Mason University, Patrick McKnight, to work through recent criticism of the effect. The way they approached the problem reveals a lot about how to check what we think we know about psychology research. (I've since found that this ground was previously covered in a 2010 blog post, and most of the deep insights come from a 2006 paper.)


This is more important information than the conclusions themselves. It is also the most overlooked information by most people.

We have been programmed to accept these conclusions because they come from the "experts" who we have also been programmed to see as superior to ourselves.

I know that may sting the ego a bit but think it through.

If we do not see them as superior to ourselves, why would we listen to them?

We must always question how those conclusions were reached as well as strongly factoring in the qualifications and reputations of the people reaching them.

Psychology Today

First, let’s consider how we came to believe in the Dunning-Kruger effect. Classic studies on the topic ask people to judge how well they would perform on various tests of intelligence and social skills, and then compares their actual performance on those tests to their peers. It turns out that people who did the worst estimate their performance to be much higher, relative to their performance, than others. In fact, this over-estimate of how well they did gets smaller and smaller the better the person actually did. This suggested to psychologists Dunning and Kruger that people who don’t know much are more overconfident than those who know a lot.

This seems like a reasonable interpretation of the data. However, a next step often taken in other sciences—but seldom taken in many areas of psychology research—is to try to create a specific, mathematical description of the process underlying the effect. This is a model. Models allow us to create a simplified universe where we know exactly how all the pieces fit together—because we’ve written out what we think is happening. The goal is to then see how well this description of the process fits the real data we collected. If the fake data we got from the model looks like the real data we see when we actually measure people, we can have some confidence that the model is right.


The controversy stirred up around Dunning-Kruger by the recent blog post was based on McKnight finding that he could create something that looked a lot like the Dunning-Kruger effect from a model where the worst performing people weren’t any more or less wrong about their skill level. People were just wrong randomly, and the pattern looked similar to the one originally published by Dunning and Kruger. A refinement of this was then posted by Benjamin Vincent of the University of Dundee in Scotland. In Vincent’s version, people were biased, but there was no difference between those who know the most and those who know the least. Everyone was just a bit overconfident in their abilities, no matter what level they were at. This matched the observed data beautifully.* (I reproduced the figure below, adjusting the data slightly to suggest that it's harder to measure people's real skill than their personal judgments. Code is publicly available here.)

I am going to leave each to their own ability to dive into the more academic side of things because I have no idea what anyone's knowledge level is.

My scribbles are only meant to be a starting point. Remember KISS- keep it simple stupid.

Psychology Today

...Gilles Gignac and Marcin Zajenkowski follow arguments that the Dunning-Kruger effect can be better explained by the combination of two factors:
  1. The “better than average” effect (the universal positive bias Vincent explored).

  2. Regression toward the mean (a statistical pattern common when two variables aren’t perfectly related).

Further, they argue that if the Dunning-Kruger effect is actually about people with little knowledge in an area not knowing how little they know, then we would expect other statistical patterns that aren’t seen in real data. Instead, they use a sample of 929 people’s scores on IQ tests to show that the results look like classic Dunning-Kruger—but are actually better explained by everyone being overconfident and there being normal statistical error.

As I myself concluded, we humans are prone to overconfidence, not exactly a groundbreaking discovery at the time.

A little overconfidence is of course not a bad thing in and of itself but since it is a known human behavior it can and will be manipulated.

Which is exactly what I believe the whole Dunning Kruger Effect theory was designed to do.

You will have to make up your own mind on that.

Now the rest of this article goes into the authors thoughts on reform within psychological research etc. but do take the time to finish the article because it makes a good point in the summary.

Everything that has to do with humans meaning everything that we humans do every minute of every day of our lives begins and ends with the psychology of human behavior.

The more we understand it, the harder it is to use it against us and that my friends is exactly why we have been programmed to not study it and simply accept the conclusions and recommendations of the experts.

Manipulation is not something that is done on a grand scale. It is done in tiny little increments that go unnoticed in we human's hectic lives.

The more hectic and noisier our lives the less we notice those subtle nudges in someone else's desired direction for us to go, not our own.

Just look back through history, it is all right there in front of us, we just have to open our eyes and see it.

Psychology as with almost everything else in this world has been corrupted far, far longer than people realize and we are not currently witnesses the implementation of the manipulation that I believe is happening, we are currently witnessing the results of it.

Cause and Effect.

Something to think about, till next time.

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