It is highly possible that you’ve encountered a Mr Know-It-All or a Ms Been-There-Done-That at least once (or God forbid, twice or more) in your lifetime.
You know, the ones who are incredibly smug about their purported store of intelligence or strength, but when the time comes to prove it, their performance is either mediocre or downright bad.
These people think nothing of boasting about their talents, and put down the talents of anyone else who is actually more knowledgeable or capable than them.
Other than basic arrogance, this is what researchers call the Dunning-Kruger effect – people harboring delusions of their supposed superiority, who always judge themselves to be better than others, and do so to an annoying degree.
Generally, these people tend to imagine themselves performing better in different fields, be it health, leadership or ethics. Strangely enough, those with the least amount of talent are usually the ones most likely to over-exaggerate their capabilities.
Studies have shown that people who performed poorly in a myriad of tests including grammar, mathematics, chess and finance rated themselves as high as actual experts did.
So, which segment of the population is most vulnerable to inflating their own ego? Actually, everyone is capable of missing out on the fact that they are incompetent in some matters.
The effect was first proposed by researchers David Dunning and Justin Kruger back in 1999.
They argued that people ignorant in some subjects are in a sort of predicament. This predicament is composed of two parts.
Firstly, these people will mess up and act foolishly due to their lack of knowledge.
Secondly, the lack of knowledge prevents them from realising where they messed up.
In simple words, people who are ignorant are too ignorant to realise how ignorant they are.
While the Dunning-Kruger effect often blinds people to their own weaknesses, people generally do admit their flaws if they notice them.
People who have an average level of understanding of a topic are generally not confident about their own skills and they are willing to admit there is much they don’t know.
Experts on the other end not only recognise that they are knowledgeable, but also think that everyone else is just as smart as them.
Hence, people who are extremely competent and people who are extremely incompetent end up having inaccurate beliefs about themselves and other people.
When they are ignorant, they are incapable of realising their own failings.
When they are geniuses, they find it hard to accept that they stand out from the crowd.
There’s a reason why many people who hold logically or scientifically unsound ideas tend to claim that their beliefs are backed by “common sense”.
They think that they know all there is to know and are unwilling to accept that there is much they do not know.
So, if the Dunning-Kruger effect blinds people to their own flaws, how do you find out just how competent or incompetent you really are?
The best option is to ask people what they think of you, and actually take what they say into consideration.
It’s also important to be willing to learn new things. That way, you will be less likely to have invisible holes in your competence.
After all, there’s an old proverb that says, “When arguing with a fool, first make sure the other person isn’t doing the same thing.”