Image by Versions Galore
David Dunning, a research psychologist at Cornell University, and his colleagues, have found how “incompetent” people are inherently unable to determine if another person is incompetent or not, or put more bluntly, some people are simply too dumb to know just how dumb they really are, and so they are, in turn, poor judges of stupidity (or intelligence) in others when they see it.
In one aspect of their study, the researchers asked students to grade some tests on grammar skills. While grading the tests, the ones who scored the worst themselves still didn’t recognize the correct answer even when they saw it repeatedly on their fellow students’ tests
If a joke sails over someone’s head—like the Zen koan about the tree falling in the forest when there is no one around to hear it—did the joke even exist in the first place???
Might this research begin to explain why our government is as lousy as it is when we have so many voters who don’t get the joke even after it’s been explained to them over and over and over again?
I think this speaks volumes about American politics. Via Life’s Little Mysteries:
With more than a decade’s worth of research, David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, has demonstrated that humans find it “intrinsically difficult to get a sense of what we don’t know.” Whether an individual lacks competence in logical reasoning, emotional intelligence, humor or even chess abilities, the person still tends to rate his or her skills in that area as being above average.
Dunning and his colleague, Justin Kruger, formerly of Cornell and now at New York University, “have done a number of studies where we will give people a test of some area of knowledge like logical reasoning, knowledge about STDs and how to avoid them, emotional intelligence, etcetera. Then we determine their scores, and basically just ask them how well they think they’ve done,” Dunning said. “We ask, ‘what percentile will your performance fall in?’”
The results are uniform across all the knowledge domains: People who actually did well on the test tend to feel more confident about their performance than people who didn’t do well, but only slightly. Almost everyone thinks they did better than average. “For people at the bottom who are really doing badly — those in the bottom 10th or 15th percentile — they think their work falls in the 60th or 55th percentile, so, above average,” Dunning told Life’s Little Mysteries. The same pattern emerges in tests of people’s ability to rate the funniness of jokes, the correctness of grammar, or even their own performance in a game of chess. “People at the bottom still think they’re outperforming other people.”
It’s not merely optimism, but rather that their total lack of expertise renders them unable to recognize their deficiency. Even when Dunning and his colleagues offer study participants a $100 reward if they can rate themselves accurately, they cannot. “They’re really trying to be honest and impartial,” he said.
It poses an existential threat to the survival of American democracy itself when some large percentage of the United States electorate would be unable to recognize an actual expert on taxes, Wall Street regulation, global warming science or health care reform.
I mean, this kinda puts people like Louie Gohmert, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Allen West into perspective, doesn’t it? The people who would support them politically or vote for them, obviously lack the critical reasoning tools necessary to make a distinction between shit and shinola OR ELSE THEY WOULDN’T SUPPORT SUCH OBVIOUS DOLTS IN THE FIRST PLACE. We’ve always known this, of course, but now there’s a growing body of actual scientific evidence that might explain how such doofuses advance in American politics. “The Peter Principle,” with scientific underpinnings, if you will…
This is both chilling and funny in a “gallows humor” kind of way, isn’t it? In a 2008 follow-up study, Dunning, Kruger and their coauthors made attempts to test alternate explanations of the original hypothesis, but came largely to the same conclusions. In addition, they also found that in contrast to high performers, “poor performers do not learn from feedback suggesting a need to improve.”
Ouch, that is a strong statement! The last thing conservatives want to spend money on is public schools, and with a college education unaffordable and out of reach for many Americans, this is going to be a nearly intractable problem for decades to come.
The Brutality Report: Stupid People What Don’t Know They’re Stupid (Vice)
Right-wingers are less intelligent than left wingers, says study (Daily Mail)
Below, Devo’s “Beautiful World”: