Unskilled and Unaware of it

Monday 12 December 2005

The latest post at The Daily WTF is about a database design with one table for every order! Mixed in with the usual snarky comments about incompetence and unjust promotion was a link to a scholarly paper, Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessment.

I haven't read the whole thing, but it's a fascinating vindication of what many people have suspected for a long time: that dumb people don't know they are dumb. The abstract sums it up:

People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.

» 5 reactions


baus 6:31 PM on 12 Dec 2005

That's too funny.

Although I have seen multiple databases where another table would have worked.

Chad Crabtree 1:43 AM on 13 Dec 2005

This is amazing. You have finally put into words a behavior that has been puzzling me for years. I knew that some particularly dumb people didn't know that they where. I just thought it was arrogance. But really it's still more stupidity stacked upon more. AMAZING.

brian 5:19 PM on 13 Dec 2005

What if most people estimated themselves around the 62 percentile? Then it would be a matter of everyone thinking they were above average with the unskilled just being more wrong than everybody else.

David Boudreau 4:55 AM on 15 Dec 2005

Scholarly paper? It mentions people "failing" a Humor Test, whatever that's supposed to mean. Primetime TV (sitcoms) only allow jokes that passed audience test (certain amount of laughter with test audiences), but then the Simpsons came along and didn't adhere to that high falutin standard- allowed "lesser" jokes to flourish- yet somehow managed to blow all other shows away, and for an extended period of time. It's valuable to know what you don't know or are incompetent at (I wonder how any of their studies might play into the Wisdom of Crowds theory). But instead of using it to vindicate what smart folks have known for so long, it's probably better to determine if there's some other area each of us might be lacking in? Nobody's perfect.

Peter of the Norse 7:41 PM on 22 Dec 2005

Everyone should read this and realize that they're talking about you. Almost everything is "rocket science" if you don't know it.

Doctors tend to be the worst. They're a bright group by and large, but don't seem to understand that having an MD doesn't make you an expert in computers, art, politics, economics, or auto maintenance.

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