On its face, the Dunning Kruger Effect is pretty simple. Someone’s performance is bad, but they (1) don’t realize their performance is bad and (2) they think their performance is good. There’s a bit more to it than that, though, and some aspects of it are misunderstood. First, though, let’s quickly go over where the Dunning Kruger Effect came from.
The Dunning Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias that was coined in 1999 by David Dunning and Justin Kruger, who were both Cornell psychologists at the time. Their findings were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, in a paper called “Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.” The Dunning Kruger Effect can be found everywhere and in all sorts of individuals:
- College students
- Medical technicians
- Software engineers
There isn’t an age group or type of professional who is exempt from the Dunning Kruger Effect. It also impacts emotional intelligence (EI), which can, in turn, impact work. If someone thinks they have high EI when they really have low EI, it’s difficult for them to become a better leader or coworker.
To put all of this in context, here’s an example. If you’ve ever heard someone say that they’ll be a billionaire in the next ten years, you’ve (likely) witnessed the Dunning Kruger Effect in action. Will that person become a billionaire? Maybe – anything is possible, even if it’s not probable. But so confidently stating they’ll become a billionaire shows a lack of self-understanding. And if they are on the path to becoming a billionaire, they would be less sure of it. (That’s the other part of the Dunning Kruger Effect, and we’ll get into that more in a bit.)