Incompetent and Unaware

One of my favourite articles published in social psychology in the last 10 years is Justin Kruger and David Dunning's (1999) "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments," which was published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1121-1134.  Across four studies, different participants were tested on their sense of humor, logical reasoning, and grammar. They were also asked to indicate what they perceived their abilities in these areas to be, relative to other people. Across the four studies, participants always believed they were better than average--sometimes dubbed in the literature as the "Lake Wobegon" effect, after Garrison Keillor's mythical Minnesota town, where all the children are "above average."  The problem, of course, is that everyone can't be above average.  In fact, half of the people are in the bottom 50% of scores on whatever ability we're talking about!  Thus, it turns out that the people who are most incompetent on a task are also the people who are most unaware of how incompetent they are.  You can see this pattern in one of the figures that appears in the Kruger and Dunning article:

In the years since this article was published, I'll admit that I have been prone to make occasional observations about other people whom I believed were unaware of how entirely incompetent they were, whether they were salespeople, clerical staff, students, or even other academics.  Interestingly, and predictably, I never really wondered about myself with respect to this article.  That is, as an academic (for example), I like to think of myself in the 3rd or Top Quartile in terms of teaching ability, creativity, writing ability, logical reasoning, etc.  But, of course, on any or all of these dimensions I am likely inflating my own competence.  In my defense, I should point out that in my occupation there are few objective measures of these talents. Regardless, the past month at work has been very challenging for me--which has caused me to re-evaluate my general competence as an academic.  On top of that, yesterday one of my manuscripts, which had been under review since December, was flat out rejected from one of the most prestigious journals in my field.  The reviewers' comments were somewhat harsh, such as, "one wonders what the point of this study is," and "who would want to read this article?"  I can't help (today) feeling a bit like I'm "unskilled and unaware of it."  To keep touch with reality, perhaps I should post the following amended figure above my desk: