How the Mind Works: The Dunning-Kruger Effect (Norman Costa)
A Facebook friend, Jose Del Solar, posted the folowing article on the Dunning-Kruger effect: Incompetent People Too Ignorant to Know It.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is fascinating, and I've written about it before. In short, people with little knowledge are unable to appreciate their intellectual deficit. Instead they view themselves as very knowledgeable. They overstate their own intellectual competence. On the other hand, people who are very knowledgeable, see themselves as far less accomplished.
Most people will pass through a low knowledge episode or short period of the D-K effect in the course of being educated, growing, and learning. In fact, we may do it multiple times, usually before we get out of high school.
I remember one of my own experiences in 10th grade biology. We had many classes on human blood and the circulatory system. A friend and I agreed that we learned a great deal of the subject matter, compared to our total ignorance at the start of 2nd year biology. We could not imagine that there was more to learn, because it seemed, to us, as comprehensive as we could imagine.
It may sound cliche, but as we learn more and more we appreciate how little we know about the larger subject matter areas. D-K folks never get that far. The D-K effect is evident in just about any subject matter area you can imagine.
What I have found so bothersome, and troubling, is the number of people in positions of power (corporate, military, politics, varied institutions) who cannot imagine that there own knowledge of the world is deficient. The two most obvious examples that come to mind are George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin.
Even when they are brought up to speed on an area where they were deficient, they still cannot see that there could be more to come. To you and I, this is obvious, and we can't get our minds around the fact that they are completely oblivious. Palin was never embarrassed by the fact that she thought Africa was a country, not a continent. However, she was pissed that others made her feel inferior because she was not in the know.
One of the post-hoc giveaways of the D-K effect is that the person who leaves a position of great power is unable to manifest a sense of humility at confronting and dealing with the things that demanded great intellectual effort and new learning. They don't express a sense of awe and respect for what others who preceded them had to deal with, nor any sympathy or compassion for the next person who will occupy the seat of power they just vacated. Again, Bush and Palin are two great examples.
There is another phenomenon that I've observed, and it may be a variation on the D-K effect, except that you find it in otherwise knowledgeable and smart people. This happens when confronted with a problem to be solved, or an area of new knowledge that is important to the present situation. They come to an solution, or an understanding, very quickly and then they hold onto that idea or position with enormous tenacity. One exceptional example was Alexander Haig. He was the former Supreme Commander of NATO forces, Whitehouse aide to President Nixon, and former Secretary of State. I've known a number of these people in executive positions in IBM Corp. This is not a matter of blind adherence to ideology. It's a very different animal.
It is always interesting to try to divine the thought process of political figures. Since this is a Presidential election year, it's a more salient matter. Rick Santorum, in my opinion, formed every significant thought he ever had by the time he was 21. Intellectual life, since that time, has been a process of seeing anything new as a variation on what he already knows. There is a prearranged slot on the shelf for anything that comes along, and no need to create any new slots or reconfigure the old ones.
Mitt Romney, in my opinion, is very much aware of his intellectual limitations and the availability of other view points on just about any issue. Newt Gingrich is harder to read. I am not sure if he displays a thought process that discounts new learning, and overvalues what he knows, or if he is just being confrontational, insulting, and controversial as a strategy, or as a character defect.
I have this mental image of showing the article I referenced, above, to someone who lacks knowledge yet believes they know just about all there is to know. After reading the article they look up at me and ask, "Yeah, so what's your point?"