Understanding the Dunning-Kruger Effect


Feature Articles, Psychology,

Dunning-Kruger Effect

Have you ever overestimated your ability to achieve a task? What about underestimating your ability at a task? Or are you the type of person to be completely honest about your skills 100% of the time? Well, if you have experienced the former you have experienced what is known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This psychological phenomenon can happen to any of us at any time our skills may be called into question. Throughout this article, we aim to gain a firm grasp on understanding the Dunning-Kruger Effect through various research and theories exploring the topic. 

What is the Dunning Kruger Effect 

The Dunning Kruger Effect is a type of cognitive bias where an individual is blinded to their level of incompetence. Meaning, an individual may overestimate their capability with a given task. This effect is named after the two psychologists who first described and studied the phenomenon David Dunning and Justin Kruger (Cherry, 2021). 

Research on the Dunning Kruger Effect 

Many researchers have conducted studies trying to understand and test the theories of the Dunning and Kruger effect. In a study conducted in 2009 by Kruger and Dunning, they analyzed data from four different studies testing a variety of skill sets from numerous individuals. In each of the studies, participants were asked to rate their knowledge or skill on a particular topic and then had their ability tested. For simplicity, we will take a look at the study focused on humor. In this study, 65 undergraduate students from Cornell University were asked to assess their ability to rate how funny particular jokes were. Their scores were compared to those of 8 famous professional comedians (ResearchGate, 2021). Based on the Dunning-Kruger effect these undergraduates would have overestimated their ability to rate jokes because they believe they are highly knowledgeable in this area. When analyzing their score compared to the 8 professional comedians, their scores should fall lower especially because the 8 professional comedians are supposed to be highly skilled in deciding what constitutes funny (ResearchGate, 2021).

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Results of Research Study  

The results from this study proved that the individuals did in fact overestimate their ability to rate the jokes successfully. For example, an average of the participants’ ranked their ability to determine the content that constituted as funny in the 66th percentile, which is well above the mean. In actuality, participants performed in the 12th percentile. This data revealed that they not only overestimated their abilities but also believed that their skills were above average (ResearchGate, 2021). Additionally, the study revealed that participants even overestimated their abilities when compared to fellow participants. These overestimations and incompetence were unaware to the participants but an inclination they innately had. Nevertheless, the Dunning-Kruger effect was highly present. 

Understanding the Dunning-Kruger Effect 

Understanding the Dunning-Kruger Effect can be hard for some of us to wrap our heads around. According to Dunning and Kruger, the reason why we are so blinded by our incompetence at times is because of what they labelled as the dual burden (Cherry, 2021). This “dual burden” refers to one’s incompetence and that incompetence “robbing them of the mental ability to realize how inept they are ” (Cherry, 2021). More specifically, Dunning theorized that the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in a task were the same skills an individual needs to recognize they may not have and if they lack those skills they are not only unsuccessful at the tasks but unaware of their incompetence (Vandergriendt, 2020). 

The Dunning-Kruger effect has also been associated with one’s inability to objectively analyze one’s abilities and behaviours, or otherwise known as metacognition (Cherry, 2021). Furthermore, when an individual is faced with some degree of knowledge on a particular subject, it can feed into their confidence in their ability to know or enact that task or subject. 

Navigating the Dunning-Kruger Effect 

Some individuals may be curious to know who is more susceptible to the Dunning-Kruger Effect. However, the truth is that each and every one of us is susceptible to this effect at any given time. Then, if this is true you may be wondering, how can we avoid the Dunning-Kruger Effect? That answer is both simple and complex. In understanding the Dunning-Kruger Effect, we must also understand ourselves. It is about understanding that we can be experts in certain entities and not in others. Simply put, no one person can be skilled or knowledgeable in every aspect. The more we can recognize our faults and inabilities, the more likely we are to navigate around the Dunning-Kruger effect (Vandergriendt, 2020). 

Ideas to Combat the Dunning-Kruger Effect 

Understanding the Dunning-Kruger Effect: Woman looking at the laptop.

Idea 1: Being Open and Willing to Learn and Practice 

At times, it can be easy for us to assume that we know what we are doing or the knowledge we may possess on a topic. However, it is imperative that we keep ourselves honest and admit where we may be incapable. By admitting that we may not have the skill or knowledge, we can then seek out the knowledge and practice the necessary skill (Cherry, 2021). This type of practice requires discipline and a keen awareness of self. 

Idea 2: Seek Advice Others 

This one may be more difficult for us to implement in two ways. The first is that it can be difficult for us to admit that we may need help from others. The second is that it can be difficult to identify individuals who are true experts in the desired subject and not experiencing the Dunning-Kruger Effect themselves. Nevertheless, seeking help or advice from someone who may have more knowledge or skills than you can be an excellent way to combat the Dunning-Kruger Effect (Cherry, 2021). 

Idea 3: Get Comfortable with Constructive Feedback

Arguably, this may be one of the most difficult ideas for us to enact. We may be apprehensive about receiving constructive feedback but when spoken about adequately, it can be very productive and allow us to have a better understanding of ourselves (Vandergriendt, 2020). This can also help with the issue of metacognition and understanding the Dunning-Kruger Effect.   

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Overall, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is a type of cognitive bias where we may overestimate our ability to complete a certain task or the knowledge we have on a given topic. It is a psychological phenomenon that we are susceptible to and may not realize until we are unsuccessful at a task or proven wrong. One of the best ways to combat the Dunning-Kruger Effect is to take the time to objectively look at our skills and knowledge. The more honest we are with ourselves about what we are competent in, the easier it will be to recognize our incompetence. Simply put, understanding the Dunning-Kruger Effect is truly about understanding ourselves. 

Works Cited 

(PDF) unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own Incompetence lead to Inflated Self-Assessments. ResearchGate. (n.d.) 

Cherry, K. (2021, August 6). Dunning-Kruger effect: Why incompetent people think they are superior. Verywell Mind.

Vandergriendt, C. (2020, May 15). The dunning-kruger effect: What it is & why it matters. Healthline.

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Tags: Dunning-Kruger Effect, Psychology, youth mental health,

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