Home Self Esteem Why People Think They Know More Than Others: The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Why People Think They Know More Than Others: The Dunning-Kruger Effect


Do you have the feeling that you express yourself better than average? Do you think you cook better than any of your friends? Do you know more about medicine than your GP? Do you think you drive better than anyone you’ve ever ridden in a car with? … You may be under the influence of the dunning kruger effect.

The writer José Cadalso wrote in 1772 a work entitled “Los eruditos a la violenta or Complete Course of All Sciences, divided into seven lessons, for seven days a week, published as a gift to those who pretend to know a lot by studying little ”.

This work is a satire on all those “wise men” of the time who gave the image of knowing a lot but in reality had little knowledge of everything. In it, those apparently cultured and wise people are criticized, but deep down they have little knowledge of everything they comment and speak.

José Cadalso showed in this work that there are people who assume that they know more than they really know and that they don’t know.

Today science explains to us why we all tend to be violet scholars in some field, and that is that we can all be victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

This effect is the tendency that we have to overestimate our capacities and aptitudes. It is a bias that leads us to assume that we are more capable or that we know more than we really are or know.

The Dunning-Kruger studies.

Justin Kruger and David Dunning are the two researchers at Cornell University who give this effect their name and who developed a series of studies to verify why  ignorance generates more trust than knowledge .

To do this, they studied the real and perceived competence of a group of students in areas such as grammar, logical reasoning and humor.

In the first part of the study, the students were asked what degree of proficiency would be awarded in each of these skills and then they were given a test to see the real degree of proficiency.

When analyzing the results obtained, Kruger and Dunning realized that the greater the incompetence of the subject, the less aware he was of it and the more positively biased was his assessment. In contrast, the subjects who presented greater real competence tended to underestimate their ability and underestimate their own competence.

Other conclusions that their study yielded  and published in the “Journal of personality and social psychology” were:

  • The least competent people are the ones who have the most difficulty recognizing their own incompetence.
  • The most incompetent people have a harder time recognizing competition in others.
  • Incompetent people have an inability to become aware of how incompetent they are in an area.
  • Incompetent people, if trained, can recognize and accept their incompetence.

Why do people think they know more than they do?

One of the explanations that we find for this effect is that we cannot realize our incompetence without having a minimum knowledge of said competence . For example, I cannot know if I have a good level of written English unless I know the grammar rules that govern the language.

On the other hand, not knowing about something does not mean that our mind has not developed a prejudiced idea about that something based on preconceived ideas, extrapolated knowledge from other fields and “popular wisdom”, showing off that saying that says that ” about football and medicine, everyone has an opinion ”.

We could understand this effect as a measure of self-protection , perhaps if from the first moment we began to be interested in a topic or were developing a competition, we came to the Socratic conclusion that “I only know that I know nothing”, it is possible that it gave us such a vertigo that it would lead us to abandon the task and learning at that very moment.

How to avoid the Dunning-Kruger effect?

First be aware that this effect exists and that we can all fall into it, since we are all incompetent in different areas . This basically allows us to start listening to others. To assume a perspective in which we can be wrong as well as others.

Ask the opinion of others . If they are experts in any subject, their knowledge will help you to generate new knowledge and therefore to be more aware of what you have left to learn.

Keep training in different areas , only by knowing more and more are we able to see our true capacity and knowledge. The more we know, the more adjusted is our assessment to the real level of knowledge we have.

Other Dunning-Kruger-related effects

Not only are the most incompetent people prey to the Dinning-kruger effect, but moderately competent people and experts are also influenced by other effects:

People with moderate knowledge on the subject or with medium ability to develop a function, often have insecurities , because they are already aware in a realistic way of what they know and what they do not know, that is, they know what remains to be learned to really consider themselves experts at something. These insecurities make you less confident in your own abilities. This feeling of low confidence can go to the extreme of turning into imposter syndrome.

In relation to people who are experts, there is an effect of overvaluation of the knowledge of others. Unlike moderate experts, Experts do not underestimate what they know, they know exactly the value of their knowledge, their bias lies in considering that others know more than they really know. So when we talk to an expert on the subject that dominates it seems that he assumes that we know things that we do not really know. Somehow they consider certain knowledge as obvious and therefore assume that they are knowledge that we all have. The result of this bias is that the expert loses the desire to continue teaching because they do not fully understand him, and the one who learns the desire to continue learning because he is unable to keep up.

As you can see, the dunning-kruger effect explains to us the tendency that we all have to believe that we know more than we do and it is this incompetence that makes it difficult for us to recognize our mistakes and limitations.

Below you will find a TEDed video  where you can find an animation about the kruger-dunning effect. (You can change the language of the subtitles in the configuration button that appears in the lower right part of the video)

and remember that:
Know that what is known is known and that what is not known is not known; here is the true knowing. (Confucius)


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