Thought Archive

Monday, January 14, 2008

Blissfully unaware

This was sent to a mailing list I subscribe to.

There are many incompetent people in the world. But a Cornell University study has shown that most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent.

People who do things badly, according to David A. Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, are usually supremely confident of their abilities -- more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.

One reason that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured, the researchers believe, is that the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence.

The incompetent, therefore, suffer doubly, the researchers -- Dunning and Justin Kruger, then a graduate student -- suggested in a paper appearing in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
``Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices,
but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it,'' wrote Kruger,
now an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, and Dunning.
This deficiency in ``self-monitoring skills,'' the researchers said, helps explain the tendency of the humor-impaired to persist in telling jokes that are not funny, of day traders to repeatedly jump into the market -- and repeatedly lose out -- and of the politically clueless to continue holding forth at dinner parties on the fine points of campaign strategy.

Some college students, Dunning said, evince a similar blindness: After doing badly on a test, they spend hours in his office, explaining why the answers he suggests for the test questions are wrong.

In a series of studies, Kruger and Dunning tested their theory of incompetence. They found that subjects who scored in the lowest quartile on tests of logic, English grammar and humor were also the most likely to ``grossly overestimate'' how well they had performed.

In all three tests, subjects' ratings of their ability were positively linked to their actual scores. But the lowest-ranked participants showed much greater distortions in their self-estimates.


Riri said...

The worst result of incompetence is not that a job could have been better done but it is that it stops more competent people dead in their tracks. Put one incompetent person in a management position (even responsible for a group of highly competent individuals) and you start a chain reaction of disaster. The question is now would it be better to put incompetent people with competent ones and hope that eventually persistent competence will win confident incompetence over or should the incompetent be left to work together and irritate each other so much that they'll end up improving? I am more inclined to adopt the latter strategy, much like in those support groups which work on the idea of grouping people with similar dysfunctional behaviour together in a confined environment and let them confront their problems.

NoolaBeulah said...

But your second strategy, Riri, assumes the presence of the very quality that, according to the researchers, the incompetent lack: awareness.

What often happens is, if they can't be fired, they are put in the position where they can do least harm. It's a damage-limitation exercise. A cure seems to be out of the question for many.

Did the report give any opinion on whether such the incompetent are born, or nurtured?

Hazar Nesimi said...

Both - incompetence is a state of mind

Hazar Nesimi said...

Both - incompetence is a state of mind