CRITICAL THINKING: “Ignorance Begets Confidence: The Dunning-Kruger Effect”

Dunning-Kruger EffectAs it turns out, the reason most Christians are so difficult to budge from their religious views is because they know so little about their religion. This may seem counter-intuitive, but this is the essence of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, discovered and described by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, both then of Cornell University, in a 1999 paper titled: “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.”

The D-K Effect was frequently suggested historically, notably by Charles Darwin –

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”

– and Bertrand Russell

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”

In a series of studies, Dunning and Kruger found this pattern across many skills, including reading comprehension, operating a motor vehicle, and playing chess or tennis. Apparently, those displaying the D-K Effect are so lacking in competence that they are even unaware of their incompetence, thus they tend to overestimate their level of skill and fail to recognize skill in others. Conversely, people with high levels of skill or knowledge tend to underestimate their standing relative to others. It seems that the more one knows, the more he realizes how little he knows.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Dunning and Kruger also found the Effect operative in broad tests of logical reasoning skills.

The D-K Effect goes a long way toward explaining why those with the least competence in their religion are the most sure they are right about it. Similarly, those who know the least about science are the most certain that it has nothing important to say about how the world works. And, in general, those who are the least adept at critical thinking are the most confident they have the answers.

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