Unskilled and Unaware of It|Unbegabt, ohne es zu wissen

Everyone knows about this phenomenon: You see an absolutely ungifted person that is not capable of doing what he or she is supposed to do, but if you want to make them aware of their shortcomings (in whatever way), they act like they’ve no idea what you’re talking about. If I would now claim that incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill, everyone could come up with various examples of such individuals they know.

Interestingly enough, there’s a study that is exploring this phenomenon – I found it on a rather cool “Wikipedia trip” (I started out with the Dilbert Principle, found the article about the Peter Principle, got hooked up on Parkinson’s Law (my own experience confirms this btw) which lead me to the Ig Nobel Prizes and I eventually made my way to the Dunning-Kruger effect as well as the related and already linked study). It confirms some of the “public knowledge”: Unskilled individuals are most likely to overestimate their level of skill. Further, the better someone scored in the various tests, the closer his estimation of his own ability matched his actual scores – although the best participants underestimated themselves (I’ll get back to that later).

In order to make a less skilled individual aware of their own shortcomings in some particular area, you had to teach them how to solve the test that covered this field. This is a paradox: You have to turn someone who’s unskilled at something into an expert or at least advanced player in the particular field to make him aware that he was unskilled before.

The lecture of this study (that is throwing numbers at you from time to time and can’t be recommended as a bedtime reading for exactly this reason) made me think about some things:

  • I guess I’m much less talented as a football player than I always thought – (it’s perfectly fine to laugh at this time. At least this insight acts as yet another proof that it was the right call to turn my back on football and chase a career in the weird field of Trading Card Games)
  • I feel vindicated about teaching other people in many ways – (this doesn’t mean that I’ll smack it in their faces when they’re not the brightest button that ever shone. Quite the contrary, now it should be even easier to understand why they’re slow on the uptake)
  • It’s even more obvious now why so few people try to teach themselves. After all, they are not even aware about how little they know – (or to quote a cynic: It’s a bad world!” – as if we didn’t already know that)
  • I’m asking myself if I’m overly confident of my abilities in various fields or if I’m such a genius that I’m actually still underestimating myself – (naturally, I tend to favor the latter option)

The study compared the unskilled individuals to Anosognosia patients. This condition causes a paralyzation of the left half of the body due to a damage in the right brain hemisphere. If you place a cup in front of such a patient and ask him to pick it up with his left hand, he’ll fail (for obvious reasons). However, the patient will also fail to realize why he failed (pictures of “you fail at failing” demotivational posters come to my mind), he’ll come up with weird explanations for his inability to pick up the cup – that he didn’t hear the person asking him to do so, that he didn’t “feel like it” or that he was too tired, etc. He has an inability to realize that he’s partly paralized.

Once again, I feel like “simply knowing” is not really the key for most people, like I already pointed out in my All it takes is one decision blog posting.

Just a quick note on the best scoring participants in the aforementioned tests: It is most likely that they thought everyone else would do quite as good as they did which lead to them underestimating theirselves. After showing them the test results of less skilled participants, they gained enough confidence to think of their own scores in a better way, pretty much closing the gap between their expectations and the actual results.

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  1. #1 by soulwarrior on June 11, 2009 - 17:23


    die Studie hat stets 4 Bereiche betrachtet. Die Gruppe, die am besten abschnitt, hat sich selbst überschätzt – was darauf zurückzuführen ist, dass diese Personen davon ausgingen, dass alle anderen ebenfalls ähnlich wie sie abschneiden würden.

    Die Personen der Gruppe 3 lagen sehr realistisch mit ihren Einschätzungen.

    Die Personen der Gruppen 1 und 2 wichen eben stark ab. Gruppe 1 dementsprechend noch mal mehr als Gruppe 2 (diese Gruppen waren, wie deutlich sein sollte, nach Leistung in den jeweiligen Tests zusammengestellt).

    Es scheint so, als ob man nicht wirklich gut bewerten kann, wie gut man bei einer bestimmten Sache abgeschnitten hat, wenn man die jeweilige Tätigkeit auch einfach nicht drauf hat.


  2. #2 by Orlo on June 11, 2009 - 12:39

    Hallo Soul,

    wiedermal ein sehr guter Bericht. Ich finde diese Studie faszinierend. Nun besteht denke ich die Frage weshalb schätzen sich die “dummen” als die klügsten ein?
    Ich denke es liegt daran, dass der Mensch sich selbst eigentlich immer als normal betrachtet und alles an seinen eigenen Fähigkeiten misst. Wenn man also versucht sich persönlich als nicht so gut anzusehen als man selbst ist kann man dann in dem Bereich seine Aufgaben besser lösen als die Einstufung der Studie es gemessen hat?


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