23 July 2018     home | politics

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Many of us know that we have limitations. We know if we can't do calculus, that we are not good cooks or we don't know the essence of the reality we call the universe. Dunning-Kruger Effect is an attitude problem (David Dunning and Justin Kruger, two psychologists at Cornell University): the problem of not knowing enough to realize one's own limitation on a particular subject — a defect we might see in someone bombastically pretending political wisdom but who really doesn't know what he is talking about. (I, of course, have made myself immune from this defect.)

Concerning politics, I would not fault an elderly widow who wouldn't want to vote for a politician whom she sees as a threat to her social security. We don't have to be a political scientist to make good choices regarding politics. And some of the opinion differences between us may be philosophical in origin rather than a competence problem.

A study by the political scientist Ian Anson at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, adds something to the Dunning-Kruger theory. Bobby Azarian writes that Anson's results,

showed that those who scored low on political knowledge were also the ones who overestimated their level of knowledge. But that wasn’t all. When participants were given cues that made them engage in partisan thought, the Dunning-Kruger effect was made even stronger. This occurred with both Republicans and Democrats, but only in those who scored low on political knowledge to begin with. (www.alternet.org)

Examples of people not realizing their incompetence are those who have claimed with confidence that the Affordable Care Act included "death panels," that Barack Obama is a Muslim, that human activities have not contributed to climate change. And we have those on the right who claim that Liberals are responsible for racism, slavery, and the Ku Klux Klan, or who believe that and modern liberalism is socialism or little different from fascism or the communism of Lenin and Stalin. These are people who don't know what they are talking about and are quick to denounce as elitists those who have worked in getting an education and know at least a little about the subjects they have studied.

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