Amazing Olympics and the Dunning-Kruger Effect!


Wow, the athletes in the Olympics were amazing. I was a swimmer and I remember thinking when I was young that I could be an Olympian. I was able to go from novice to amateur to decent in a few years. However to be able to get to the level of  a Michael Phelps was a bigger difference. It is this misunderstanding that is explained by the  The Dunning–Kruger Effect. (link takes you to Wikipedia explanation of Dunning-Kruger Effect)

Charles Darwin captured this effect well in a quote:

    Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge…

The effect is a cognitive bias or an irrational way of believing that although a person only has poor skills, they actually believe they are very good. I remember seeing this effect on American Idol when the singers thought they were very good but were not. William Hung, demonstrated this effect in video below, even admitting, he had no professional training.

This effect explains why people sometimes believe they are much better at something than they really are. Dunning and Kruger’s work suggested this happens when people are unable to accurately evaluate their own skills. Evidence indicates this may happen because people compare themselves only to peers or other lower skilled people. For instance, although I was a decent swimmer, I mostly compared myself to colleagues, however if I compared myself to Olympic swimmers it would have caused me to change my evaluation.

The other interesting finding from this work was that they also found that highly skilled people sometimes underestimate their relative confidence. For skilled people, they may believe that skills they have mastered because of their practice and experience are also easy for others. Olympic athletes may be able to stay humble because they continually compare themselves to other highly skilled athletes, not those of the general populace.

I sometimes saw this with my daughters who became very skilled at gymnastics or school work because of hours of practice. I can remember situations, when to their surprise, others were not as capable as they were. In these situations I had to remind them that they are able to do those skills well because of the many hours of practice they had already accumulated. Now I know this was the Dunning Kruger Effect.

Wikipedia offered this explanatory quote from Dunning and Kruger:

    The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.


A personal understandable example had come from my work life. Although the end product of years of work comes out fairly simple, the simple looking result was the byproduct of years of work. A smart colleague shared, in time, brilliant insight becomes obvious and it this means it is hard to understand why others don’t understand as you do. However, it is at this time that I work to remind myself about the years of work it took to  come to that insight.

As another example, even though I had done a thesis, a dissertation and other research projects, it was not until I was teaching research methods, and thought about what I did, that I truly understood. Another smart colleague, in a short sentence helped me understand. She explained it to me that Confucius statement was incomplete. He said:


She explained, you truly understand when you think about what you have done.

To Really Understand

I have found this to be true, it is only after I think about what I have done and why what I did worked out the way it did that I truly understand. It also only after I think about what I did that I am able to explain it to others. I look forward to learning from you about how we can create interactions to benefit everyone and everything.

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!


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