Dunning-Kruger Effect: When Distorted Self-Perception and Illusions of Competence Trick Entertainers, Politicians, and Cities

Posted on November 26, 2013

American Idol

American Idol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Steve Mensing, Editor

♦While many have not heard of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, no doubt more than a few of us have watched those shows starting a new season of American Idol. You know the ones where people, with no talent or skill at singing, grab center stage and draw eye-rolls and muted chuckles from the judges.  Surely we’ve seen wannabe politicians become baffled when someone questions them about a major issue.  Even some municipalities are said to suffer from inflated self-perception.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is the extreme bias that some untalented and unskilled persons suffer from when they rate their ability at a much higher level than it actually is.  Some folks suffering from Dunning-Kruger Effect are convinced they possess superior talent and skills which bewilders audiences and people who come in contact with them. What causes this gross inaccuracy in self perception? Is it an anomalous brain condition impairing judgment? A cognitive deficit? A defense mechanism whiting-out accurate self-perception?  Living in a vacuum of inaccurate positive feedback from family and friends may lead to misperceiving jeers for cheers.  Is the performer making overly positive assumptions about what their audience believes? Many possible explanations exist for the causes of Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Back in 1999 David Dunning and Justin Kruger tested the Dunning-Kruger Effect in a series of experiments at Cornell University. Initial areas in incompetence were tested such as reading comprehension, driving a car, and playing chess or tennis. Dunning and Kruger posited that for a given skill, incompetent people will:

• Tend to overestimate their own level of skill.

• Tend to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy.

• Fail to recognize genuine skill in others.

• Recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill.

Dunning compared Dunning-Kruger Effect with a condition where someone suffers a physical disability due to a brain injury and appears unaware of or denies the disability’s existence, even with an impairment such as blindness or paralysis.

We’ve all witnessed entertainers, politicians and at least one municipality with distorted self-perception and illusions of competence.  No need to remind them of their shortcomings because according to Dunning-Kruger Effect they likely won’t recognize their shortcomings.  Here are examples of Dunning-Kruger Effect from the world of entertainment:

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