From Erica Goode’s “Incompetent People Really Have No Clue, Studies Find: They’re blind to own failings, others’ skills” (The New York Times: 18 January 2000):
Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, worries about this because, according to his research, most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent.
On the contrary. People who do things badly, Dunning has found in studies conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely confident of their abilities — more confident, in fact, than people who do things well. …
One reason that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured, the researchers believe, is that the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence.
The incompetent, therefore, suffer doubly, they suggested in a paper appearing in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
“Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it,” wrote Kruger, now an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, and Dunning.
This deficiency in “self-monitoring skills,” the researchers said, helps explain the tendency of the humor-impaired to persist in telling jokes that are not funny, of day traders to repeatedly jump into the market — and repeatedly lose out — and of the politically clueless to continue holding forth at dinner parties on the fine points of campaign strategy. …
Unlike unskilled counterparts, the most able subjects in the study, Kruger and Dunning found, were likely to underestimate their competence. The researchers attributed this to the fact that, in the absence of information about how others were doing, highly competent subjects assumed that others were performing as well as they were — a phenomenon psychologists term the “false consensus effect.”
When high-scoring subjects were asked to “grade” the grammar tests of their peers, however, they quickly revised their evaluations of their own performance. In contrast, the self-assessments of those who scored badly themselves were unaffected by the experience of grading others; some subjects even further inflated their estimates of their own abilities.
“Incompetent individuals were less able to recognize competence in others,” the researchers concluded.