Illusory Superiority (or the “Am I Crap” Effect).

I was at work today (I’m an office worker) and a friend approached me, a book open in his hand and a smile on his face. The books title read “Bad Science” and from my knowledge of the man I knew that it wouldn’t be some novel he wanted me to see.

What he read for me was essentially what is known as the “Dunning-Kruger Effect” and for those who have no idea what this is it can be summed up with the hypothesis that, with a typical skill which humans may possess in greater or lesser degree:

  1. Incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill.
  2. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize genuine skill in others.
  3. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy.
  4. If they can be trained to substantially improve their own skill level, these individuals can recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill.

This friend of mine used the quote in reference to our office management, with whom by lot of strange and inconsistent decisions are made. We had a laugh about it and the day went on much as it had before.

But of course this wasn’t the end of it…

I think about stuff, things that often other people often just go “meh” to (a great term from the wit and wisdom of Dave Taylor, read his stuff over at DeviousDictum) and very often these things I think over I do in relation to myself and how I behave.

I think this is perhaps because I’m an arrogant shit, but I may just be a dick-head, I think the jury is still out on that one. (Comments on a postcard please…)

Am I an incompetent with delusions of grandeur? Does that fact that I consider the prospect mean that I’m not?  Or is this a case of illusory superiority based partly on my self supposed magnanimous nature?


The Dunning-Kruger hypothesis goes on to consider the results of further tests that suggest that those people who score the lowest routinely grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Whereas people with true knowledge tended to underestimate their competence. Roughly, participants who found tasks to be relatively easy tended to assume to some extent that the tasks must also be easy for others.

So what does that say regarding my test subject, i.e. me…?

Or you for that matter?

It almost seems a case of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”, confidence in your abilities could denote you to be a delusional incompetent, whereas a lack of such could mean that you are competent; but lack the intellectual superiority you need to capatalise on the fact.

So to sum it up, does this mean that we are either idiots or wussies?

Is there much of a choice here?

It doesn’t mean anything of the sort of course, other studies show interesting information too regarding this phenomena. One such study “proved” (if I can use such a word) that people with a low IQ found it difficult to judge other peoples intelligence, or considered the test to be worthless. While those with a higher IQ could quite easily guess other peoples scores on the test quite accurately and accepted the results of the tests at least in “principle”.

So it seems, to a degree, that a persons intelligence is linked to their ability to show a kind of “intellectual empathy” to others.

All very interesting…

I also noted while looking through the notes reprinted from “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology” that men tend to overestimate their IQ by 5 point while women underestimate theirs by the same margin.

So what is the difference? Why is it that, generally speaking, men and women react differently while considering their own intellect?

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