eCrozier #333 – 21 April 2017
The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool
– William Shakespeare in As You Like it
If the young boy in this cartoon were exhibiting something called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, then he wouldn’t say his answer “may” be wrong. He’d be certain that he got the answer right. It was the teacher who was wrong. I had never heard of this “effect” until recently, but Dunning & Kruger, two social psychologists from Cornell University, have been studying this “effect,” which now bears their name, for 18 years.
In their repeated studies, participants took tests and then they were shown their scores on the tests. They were then asked to estimate how well they did in relationship to others who took the same test. Participants who did quite poorly on the test consistently estimated that they ranked higher than others. As Dunning & Kruger wrote: “Although test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd.”
But the same wasn’t true of those who did relatively well on the test. They tended to slightly underestimate how well they did in relationship to the others tested. It seems there’s some modesty among the competent, but such modesty isn’t present in the less competent. Similar studies have been done in other cultures around the world, but the same “effect” isn’t nearly as pronounced in those other cultures as it is in ours. While the Dunning-Kruger Effect appears to be a somewhat universal human tendency, it seems Americans have it on steroids.
Blessed Paul the Apostle reminds us in Romans 12 that we shouldn’t think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. That’s wise counsel for us all, but some people truly believe they “ought” to think more highly of themselves. They really do believe they’re smarter and wiser than others. They even continue to believe that after they’ve been shown the results that prove otherwise.
Americans used to look up to wise and learned people. We didn’t call educated people “elitists” or belittle how much they knew. But, it seems, more recently we’ve grown leery of people who know more than we do or at least we’re unwilling to acknowledge they do know more than we do. For example, even though nearly every Nobel Laureate in Science has affirmed that climate change is real, a danger to the planet, and is caused by human action, we have influential people who discount what these learned people have said and deny their educated conclusions. Saying these Nobel Laureates engage in “fake science” doesn’t change the scientific conclusions. 7 X 5 will always equal 35 no matter how much anyone might “feel” otherwise.
I’m not sure what to make of all this, other than to be thankful that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world: For those who, for modesty’s sake, will judge themselves slightly less wise than they truly are and for those who persist in their own ignorance and still believe they are wise.