We’re stupid and we don’t know it: a history

I’ve long been fascinated by the Dunning–Kruger effect and its distant cousin the Peter Principle. If you haven’t heard of these theories yet, I recommend you don’t read about it at bedtime if you value sleep. This is the kind of thing that keeps you up for days as you try to figure out how it applies to everything you’ve ever done.

Dunning-Kruger basically states that people who are incompetent don’t realise that they’re incompetent, because they lack the competence to figure it out. That’s really scary stuff.

Anyway, in June 2010 Errol Morris conducted an interview with David Dunning, and it’s a fascinating read. Among other things, Dunning gives more background about the research they did, and also goes into detail on the idea of “unknown unknowns”, that scary realm of not knowing what you don’t know. From The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is:

Unknown unknown solutions haunt the mediocre without their knowledge. The average detective does not realize the clues he or she neglects. The mediocre doctor is not aware of the diagnostic possibilities or treatments never considered. The run-of-the-mill lawyer fails to recognize the winning legal argument that is out there. People fail to reach their potential as professionals, lovers, parents and people simply because they are not aware of the possible.

This is a five-part series, and I’ve only read part 1, but I’m really looking forward to digging into the rest of the series. If you have an interest in human behavior, and you’re not scared of freaking yourself out a bit, this is highly recommended reading.

(link via @berkun)