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Unskilled and Unaware

Unskilled and Unaware

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Published by Shikari Sher
How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments With Justin Kruger and David Dunning
How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments With Justin Kruger and David Dunning

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Published by: Shikari Sher on May 09, 2011
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JournalofPersonalityandSocialPsychology
1999,Vol.77,No.6,1121-1134
Copyright1999bytheAmericanPsychologicalAssociation,Inc.
0022·3514/991$3.00
UnskilledandUnawareofIt:HowDifficultiesinRecognizingOne'sOwnIncompetenceLeadtoInflatedSelf-Assessments
JustinKrugerandDavidDunning
CornellUniversity
Peopletendtoholdoverlyfavorableviewsoftheirabilitiesinmanysocialandintellectualdomains.Theauthorssuggestthatthisoverestimationoccurs,inpart,becausepeoplewhoareunskilledinthesedomainssufferadualburden:Notonlydothesepeoplereacherroneousconclusionsandmakeunfortunatechoices,buttheirincompetencerobsthemofthemetacognitiveabilitytorealizeit.Across4studies,theauthorsfoundthatparticipantsscoringinthebottomquartileontestsofhumor,grammar,andlogicgrosslyoverestimatedtheirtestperformanceandability.Althoughtheirtestscoresputtheminthe12thpercentile,theyestimatedthemselvestobeinthe62nd.Severalanalyseslinkedthismiscalibrationtodeficitsinmetacognitiveskill,orthecapacitytodistinguishaccuracyfromerror.Paradoxically,improvingtheskillsofparticipants,andthusincreasingtheirmetacognitivecompetence,helpedthemrecognizethelimitationsoftheirabilities.Itisoneoftheessentialfeaturesofsuchincompetencethatthepersonsoafflictedisincapableofknowingthatheisincompetent.Tohavesuchknowledgewouldalreadybetoremedyagoodportionoftheoffense.(Miller,1993,p.4)
In1995,McArthurWheelerwalkedintotwoPittsburghbanksandrobbedtheminbroaddaylight,withnovisibleattemptatdisguise,Hewasarrestedlaterthatnight,lessthananhouraftervideotapesofhimtakenfromsurveillancecameraswerebroadcastonthe11o'clocknews.Whenpolicelatershowedhimthesur-veillancetapes,Mr.Wheelerstaredinincredulity."ButIworethejuice,"hemumbled.Apparently,Mr.Wheelerwasundertheimpressionthatrubbingone'sfacewithlemonjuicerendereditinvisibletovideotapecameras(Fuocco,1996).WebringuptheunfortunateaffairsofMr.Wheelertomakethreepoints.Thefirsttwoarenoncontroversial.First,inmanydomainsinlife,successandsatisfactiondependonknowledge,wisdom,orsavvyinknowingwhichrulestofollowandwhichstrategiestopursue.Thisistruenotonlyforcommittingcrimes,butalsoformanytasksinthesocialandintellectualdomains,such
JustinKrugerandDavidDunning,DepartmentofPsychology,CornellUniversity.WethankBetsyOstrov,MarkStalnaker,andBorisVeysmanfortheirassistanceindatacollection.WealsothankAndrewHayes,ChipHeath,RichGonzalez,KenSavitsky,andDavidShermanfortheirvaluablecommentsonanearlierversionofthisarticle,andDovCohenforalertingustothequoteweusedtobeginthisarticle.PortionsofthisresearchwerepresentedattheannualmeetingoftheEasternPsychologicalAssociation,Boston,March1998.ThisresearchwassupportedfinanciallybyNationalInstituteofMentalHealthGrantROI56072.CorrespondenceconcerningthisarticleshouldbeaddressedtoJustinKruger,whoisnowattheDepartmentofPsychology,UniversityofIllinoisatUrbana-Champaign,603EastDanielStreet,Champaign,Illinois61820,ortoDavidDunning,DepartmentofPsychology,UrisHall,CornellUniversity,Ithaca,NewYork14853-7601.ElectronicmailmaybesenttoJustinKrugeratjkruger@s.psych.uiuc.eduortoDavidDunningatdad6@cornell.edu.
aspromotingeffectiveleadership,raisingchildren,constructingasolidlogicalargument,ordesigningarigorouspsychologicalstudy.Second,peopledifferwidelyintheknowledgeandstrate-giestheyapplyinthesedomains(Dunning,Meyerowitz,
&
Holz-berg,1989;Dunning,Perie,
&
Story,1991;Story
&
Dunning,1998),withvaryinglevelsofsuccess.Someoftheknowledgeandtheoriesthatpeopleapplytotheiractionsaresoundandmeetwithfavorableresults.Others,likethelemonjuicehypothesisofMcArthurWheeler,areimperfectatbestandwrong-headed,in-competent,ordysfunctionalatworst.Perhapsmorecontroversialisthethirdpoint,theonethatisthefocusofthisarticle.Wearguethatwhenpeopleareincompetentinthestrategiestheyadopttoachievesuccessandsatisfaction,theysufferadualburden:Notonlydotheyreacherroneousconclusionsandmakeunfortunatechoices,buttheirincompetencerobsthemoftheabilitytorealizeit.Instead,likeMr.Wheeler,theyareleftwiththemistakenimpressionthattheyaredoingjustfine.AsMiller(1993)perceptivelyobservedinthequotethatopensthisarticle,andasCharlesDarwin(1871)sagelynotedoveracenturyago,"ignorancemorefrequentlybegetsconfidencethandoesknowl-edge"(p.3).Inessence,wearguethattheskillsthatengendercompetenceinaparticulardomainareoftentheverysameskillsnecessarytoevaluatecompetenceinthatdomain-one'sownoranyoneelse's.Becauseofthis,incompetentindividualslackwhatcognitivepsy-chologistsvariouslyterm
metacognition
(Everson
&
Tobias,
1998),metamemory
(Klin,Guizman,
&
Levine,1997),
metacom-prehension
(Maki,Jonas,
&
Kallod,1994),or
self-monitoring
skills(Chi,Glaser,
&
Rees,1982).Thesetermsrefertotheabilitytoknowhowwelloneisperforming,whenoneislikelytobeaccurateinjudgment,andwhenoneislikelytobeinerror.Forexample,considertheabilitytowritegrammaticalEnglish.Theskillsthatenableonetoconstructagrammaticalsentencearethesameskillsnecessarytorecognizeagrammaticalsentence,andthusarethesameskillsnecessarytodetermineifagrammaticalmistakehasbeenmade.Inshort,thesameknowledgethatunder-liestheabilitytoproducecorrectjudgmentisalsotheknowledge
1121
 
1122
KRUGERANDDUNNING
thatunderliestheabilitytorecognizecorrectjudgment.Tolacktheformeristobedeficientinthelatter.
ImperfectSelf-Assessments
Wefocusonthemetacognitiveskillsoftheincompetenttoexplain,inpart,thefactthatpeopleseemtobesoimperfectinappraisingthemselvesandtheir
abilities.'
Perhapsthebestillus-trationofthistendencyisthe"above-averageeffect,"orthetendencyoftheaveragepersontobelieveheorsheisaboveaverage,aresultthatdefiesthelogicofdescriptivestatistics(Alicke,1985;Alicke,Klotz,Breitenbecher,Yurak,
&
Vreden-burg,1995;Brown
&
Gallagher,1992;Cross,1977;Dunningetal.,1989;Klar,Medding,
&
Sarel,1996;Weinstein,1980;Wein-stein
&
Lachendro,1982).Forexample,highschoolstudentstendtoseethemselvesashavingmoreabilityinleadership,gettingalongwithothers,andwrittenexpressionthantheirpeers(CollegeBoard,1976-1977),businessmanagersviewthemselvesasmoreablethanthetypicalmanager(Larwood
&
Whittaker,1977),andfootballplayersseethemselvesasmoresavvyin"footballsense"thantheirteammates(Felson,1981).Webelievefocusingonthemetacognitivedeficitsoftheun-skilledmayhelpexplainthisoveralltendencytowardinflatedself-appraisals.Becausepeopleusuallychoosewhattheythinkisthemostreasonableandoptimaloption(Metcalfe,1998),thefailuretorecognizethatonehasperformedpoorlywillinsteadleaveonetoassumethatonehasperformedwell.Asaresult,theincompetentwilltendtogrosslyoverestimatetheirskillsandabilities.
CompetenceandMetacognitiveSkills
Severallinesofresearchareconsistentwiththenotionthatincompetentindividualslackthemetacognitiveskillsnecessaryforaccurateself-assessment.Workonthenatureofexpertise,forinstance,hasrevealedthatnovicespossesspoorermetacognitiveskillsthandoexperts.Inphysics,novicesarelessaccuratethanexpertsinjudgingthedifficultyofphysicsproblems(Chietal.,1982).Inchess,novicesarelesscalibratedthanexpertsabouthowmanytimestheyneedtoseeagivenchessboardpositionbeforetheyareabletoreproduceitcorrectly(Chi,1978).Intennis,novicesarelesslikelythanexpertstosuccessfullygaugewhetherspecificplayattemptsweresuccessful(McPherson
&
Thomas,1989).Thesefindingssuggestthatunaccomplishedindividualsdonotpossessthedegreeofmetacognitiveskillsnecessaryforaccurateself-assessmentthattheirmoreaccomplishedcounterpartspossess.However,noneofthisresearchhasexaminedwhethermetacog-nitivedeficienciestranslateintoinflatedself-assessmentsorwhethertherelativelyincompetent(novices)aresystematicallymoremiscalibratedabouttheirabilitythanarethecompetent(experts).Ifoneskimsthroughthepsychologicalliterature,onewillfindsomeevidencethattheincompetentarelessablethantheirmoreskilledpeerstogaugetheirownlevelofcompetence.Forexample,FagotandO'Brien(1994)foundthatsociallyincompetentboyswerelargelyunawareoftheirlackofsocialgraces(seeBem
&
Lord,1979,forasimilarresultinvolvingcollegestudents).Me-diocrestudentsarelessaccuratethanotherstudentsatevaluatingtheircourseperformance(Moreland,Miller,
&
Laucka,1981).Unskilledreadersarelessabletoassesstheirtextcomprehensionthanaremoreskilledreaders(Maki,Jonas,
&
Kallod,1994).Studentsdoingpoorlyontestslessaccuratelypredictwhichques-tionstheywillgetrightthandostudentsdoingwell(Shaughnessy,1979;Sinkavich,1995).Driversinvolvedinaccidentsorflunkingadrivingexampredicttheirperformanceonareactiontestlessaccuratelythandomoreaccomplishedandexperienceddrivers(Kunkel,1971).However,noneofthesestudieshasexaminedwhetherdeficientmetacognitiveskillsunderliethesemiscalibra-tions,norhavetheytiedthesemiscalibrationstotheabove-averageeffect.
Predictions
Theseshardsofempiricalevidencesuggestthatincompetentindividualshavemoredifficultyrecognizingtheirtruelevelofabilitythandomorecompetentindividualsandthatalackofmetacognitiveskillsmayunderliethisdeficiency.Thus,wemadefourspecificpredictionsaboutthelinksbetweencompetence,metacognitiveability,andinflatedself-assessment.
Prediction
1.Incompetentindividuals,comparedwiththeirmorecompetentpeers,willdramaticallyoverestimatetheirabilityandperformancerelativetoobjectivecriteria.
Prediction
2.Incompetentindividualswillsufferfromdeficientmetacognitiveskills,inthattheywillbelessablethantheirmorecompetentpeerstorecognizecompetencewhentheyseeit-beittheirownoranyoneelse's.
Prediction
3.Incompetentindividualswillbelessablethantheirmorecompetentpeerstogaininsightintotheirtruelevelofperformancebymeansofsocialcomparisoninformation.Inpar-ticular,becauseoftheirdifficultyrecognizingcompetenceinoth-ers,incompetentindividualswillbeunabletouseinformationaboutthechoicesandperformancesofotherstoformmoreaccu-rateimpressionsoftheirownability.
Prediction
4.Theincompetentcangaininsightabouttheirshortcomings,butthiscomes(paradoxically)bymakingthemmorecompetent,thusprovidingthemthemetacognitiveskillsnecessarytobeabletorealizethattheyhaveperformedpoorly.
TheStudies
Weexploredthesepredictionsinfourstudies.Ineach,wepresentedparticipantswithteststhatassessedtheirabilityinadomain
in
whichknowledge,wisdom,orsavvywascrucial:humor(Study
1),
logicalreasoning(Studies2.and4),andEnglishgram-mar(Study3).Wethenaskedparticipantstoassesstheirability
1
Afewwordsareinorderaboutwhatwemeanby
incompetent.
First,throughoutthisarticle,wethinkofincompetenceasamatterofdegreeandnotoneofabsolutes.Thereisnocategoricalbrightlinethatseparates"competent"individualsfrom"incompetent"ones.Thus,whenwespeakof"incompetent"individualswemeanpeoplewhoarelesscompetentthantheirpeers.Second,wehavefocusedouranalysisontheincompetenceindividualsdisplayinspecificdomains.Wemakenoclaimthattheywouldbeincompetentinanyotherdomains,althoughmanyacolleaguehaspulledusasidetotellusataleofapersontheyknowwhois"domain-general"incompetent.Thosepeoplemayexist,buttheyarenotthefocusofthisresearch.
 
1123
NSKILLEDANDUNAWARE
andtestperformance.Inallstudies,wepredictedthatparticipantsingeneralwouldoverestimatetheirabilityandperformancerela-tivetoobjectivecriteria.Butmoretothepoint,wepredictedthatthosewhoprovedtobeincompetent(i.e.,thosewhoscoredinthebottomquarterofthedistribution)wouldbeunawarethattheyhadperformedpoorly.Forexample,theirscorewouldfallinthe10thor15thpercentileamongtheirpeers,buttheywouldestimatethatitfellmuchhigher(Prediction1).Ofcourse,thisoverestimationcouldbetakenasamathematicalverity.Ifonehasalowscore,onehasabetterchanceofoverestimatingone'sperformancethanunderestimatingit.Thus,therealquestioninthesestudiesishowmuchthosewhoscoredpoorlywouldbemiscalibratedwithre-specttotheirperformance.Inaddition,wewantedtoexaminetherelationshipbetweenmiscalibratedviewsofabilityandmetacognitiveskills,whichweoperationalizedas(a)theabilitytodistinguishwhatonehasansweredcorrectlyfromwhatonehasansweredincorrectlyand(b)theabilitytorecognizecompetenceinothers.Thus,inStudy4,weaskedparticipantstonotonlyestimatetheiroverallperfor-manceandability,buttoindicatewhichspecifictestitemstheybelievedtheyhadansweredcorrectlyandwhichincorrectly.InStudy3,weshowedcompetentandincompetentindividualstheresponsesofothersandassessedhowwellparticipantsfromeachgroupcouldspotgoodandpoorperformances.Inbothstudies,wepredictedthattheincompetentwouldmanifestpoorermetacogni-tiveskillsthanwouldtheirmorecompetentpeers(Prediction2).Wealsowantedtofindoutwhatexperiencesorinterventionswouldmakelowperformersrealizethetruelevelofperformancethattheyhadattained.Thus,inStudy3,weaskedparticipantstoreassesstheirownabilityaftertheyhadseentheresponsesoftheirpeers.Wepredictedthatcompetentindividualswouldlearnfromobservingtheresponsesofothers,therebybecomingbettercali-bratedaboutthequalityoftheirperformancerelativetotheirpeers.Incompetentparticipants,incontrast,wouldnot(Prediction3).InStudy4,wegaveparticipantstraininginthedomainoflogicalreasoningandexploredwhetherthisnewfoundcompetencewouldpromptincompetentindividualstowardabetterunderstandingofthetrueleveloftheirabilityandtestperformance(Prediction4).
Study1.'Humor
InStudy1,wedecidedtoexplorepeople'sperceptionsoftheircompetenceinadomainthatrequiressophisticatedknowledgeandwisdomaboutthetastesandreactionsofotherpeople.Thatdo-mainwashumor.Toanticipatewhatisandwhatotherswillfindfunny,onemusthavesubtleandtacitknowledgeaboutotherpeople'stastes.Thus,inStudy1wepresentedparticipantswithaseriesofjokesandaskedthemtoratethehumorofeachone.Wethencomparedtheirratingswiththoseprovidedbyapanelofexperts,namely,professionalcomedianswhomaketheirlivingbyrecognizingwhatisfunnyandreportingittotheiraudiences.Bycomparingeachparticipant'sratingswiththoseofourexpertpanel,wecouldroughlyassessparticipants'abilitytospothumor.Ourkeyinterestwashowperceptionsofthatabilityconvergedwithactualability.Specifically,wewantedtodiscoverwhether,thosewho
did
poorlyonourmeasurewouldrecognizethelowqualityoftheirperformance.Wouldtheyrecognizeitorwouldtheybeunaware?
Method
Participants.
Participantswere65CornellUniversityundergraduatesfromavarietyofcoursesinpsychologywhoearnedextracreditfortheirparticipation.
Materials.
Wecreateda30-itemquestionnairemadeupofjokeswefeltwereofvaryingcomedicvalue.JokesweretakenfromWoodyAllen(1975),AlFrankin(1992),andabookof"reallysilly"petjokesbyJeffRovin(1996).Toassessjokequality,wecontactedseveralprofessionalcomediansviaelectronicmailandaskedthemtorateeachjokeonascalerangingfrom1
(notatallfunny)
to11
(veryfunny).
Eightcomediansrespondedtoourrequest(BobCrawford,CostakiEconomopoulos,PaulFrisbie,KathleenMadigan,AnnRose,AllanSitterson,DavidSpark,andDanSt.Paul).Althoughtheratingsprovidedbytheeightcomediansweremoderatelyreliable
(a
=
.72),ananalysisofinterratercorrelationsfoundthatone(andonlyone)comedian'sratingsfailedtocorrelatepositivelywiththeothers(mean
r
=-
.09).Wethusexcludedthiscomedian'sratingsinourcalculationofthehumorvalueofeachjoke,yieldingafinal
a
of.76.Expertratingsrevealedthatjokesrangedfromthenotsofunny(e.g.,"Question:Whatisbigasaman,butweighsnothing?Answer:Hisshadow."Meanexpertrating
=
1.3)totheveryfunny(e.g.,"Ifakidaskswhereraincomesfrom,Ithinkacutethingtotellhimis'Godiscrying.'AndifheaskswhyGodiscrying,anothercutethingtotellhimis'probablybecauseofsomethingyoudid."Meanexpertrating
=
9.6).
Procedure.
Participantsratedeachjokeonthesamell-pointscaleusedbythecomedians.Afterward,participantscomparedtheir"abilitytorecognizewhat'sfunny"withthatoftheaverageCornellstudentbyprovidingapercentileranking.Inthisandinallsubsequentstudies,weexplainedthatpercentilerankingscouldrangefrom0
(I'mattheverybottom)
to50
(I'mexactlyaverage)
to99
(I'mattheverytop).
ResultsandDiscussion
Genderfailedtoqualifyanyresultsinthisoranyofthestudiesreportedinthisarticle,andthusreceivesnofurthermention.Ourfirstpredictionwasthatparticipantsoverallwouldoveres-timatetheirabilitytotellwhatisfunnyrelativetotheirpeers.Tofindoutwhetherthiswasthecase,wefirstassignedeachpartic-ipantapercentilerankbasedontheextenttowhichhisorherjokeratingscorrelatedwiththeratingsprovidedbyourpanelofpro-fessionals(withhighercorrelationscorrespondingtobetterperfor-mance).Onaverage,participantsputtheirabilitytorecognizewhatisfunnyinthe66thpercentile,whichexceededtheactualmeanpercentile(50,bydefinition)by16percentilepoints,one-sample
t(64)
=
7.02,
p
<
.0001.Thisoverestimationoccurredeventhoughself-ratingsofabilityweresignificantlycorrelatedwithourmeasureofactualability,
r(63)
=
.39,
p
<
.001.Ourmainfocus,however,isontheperceptionsofrelatively"incompetent"participants,whichwedefinedasthosewhosetestscorefellinthebottomquartile
(n
=
16).AsFigure1depicts,theseparticipantsgrosslyoverestimatedtheirabilityrelativetotheirpeers.Whereastheiractualperformancefellinthe12thpercentile,theyputthemselvesinthe58thpercentile.Theseesti-mateswerenotonlyhigherthantherankingtheyactuallyachieved,paired
t(15)
=
10.33,
p
<
.0001,butwerealsomargin-allyhigherthanarankingof"average"(i.e.,the50thpercentile),one-sample
t(I5)
=
1.96,
p
<
.07.Thatis,evenparticipantsinthebottomquarterofthedistributiontendedtofeelthattheywerebetterthanaverage.AsFigure1illustrates,participantsinotherquartilesdidnotoverestimatetheirabilitytothesamedegree.Indeed,thoseinthe

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