The Dunning Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias which states that people who possess little knowledge on a topic have a tendency to overestimate themselves. Whereas the more knowledgeable individuals tend to underestimate themselves.

The Dunning Kruger Effect Graph

The Bizarre Case of McArthur Wheeler

In 1995, a middle aged man by the name of McArthur Wheeler would rob a bank in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His plan was to walk in, smile at the cameras and then point the gun at the staff demanding they hand over all the cash. Here’s where it gets peculiar: Wheeler did not wear a ski mask or anything to hide his face. Instead, he rubbed lemon juice all over his face.

His reasoning was –since lemon juice is an ingredient used to make invisible ink, if he applied it to his face then he would be invisible. His plan however, did not go as intended as security cameras recorded everything which led to his arrest. McArthur was in disbelief that his plan did not work and reports say that whilst being taken to custody, he told the police officers:

“But I wore the juice.”

Research on the Dunning Kruger Effect

The apparent ‘bias’ in Wheeler’s reasoning intrigued two psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger to study this phenomenon.

In one study, they gave a group of undergraduate students a test which involved assessing their competence in three categories: Grammar, Logic and Humor. Upon completion, the students were to estimate their overall score. In addition, they were to compare their relative rank with their peers.

The findings: Students who scored the lowest in the test, had overestimated how well they had performed by a significant margin. This precisely revealed the Dunning Kruger Effect at work: not only did the incompetent students overestimate their abilities, they were also unaware of just how bad they were!

 On the other hand, students who scored the highest in the tests underestimated their performance. They reasoned that because it was easy for them, it was easy for all the other students as well.

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” Daniel J. Boorstin

Counteracting The Dunning Kruger Effect:

    • Learn from those who have spent decades in a particular field and have them show you what you have yet to learn.
    • The more you gain knowledge in a specific topic or skill, the more you realize that you don’t know what you don’t know. Have humility -you would be doing yourself a favor and in knowing that as the Greek philosopher Socrates said:

“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life.” – Socrates