Something’s wrong, but you don’t know what: the stupid person’s paradox and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

“Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is:” What happens when you’re too incompetent to judge that you’re incompetent? One of my friends teaches the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) and calls this the stupid person’s paradox—you’re too stupid to realize that you’re stupid. He often found evidence of the stupid person’s paradox in students with high GPAs in very easy majors who then wondered why they were terrible at the test and/or couldn’t read effectively.

I like that name better than the “the Dunning-Kruger Effect,” which finds that “our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence.” I wonder if understanding the effect makes us less likely to susceptible to it, or merely makes us implicitly smug that we’re smart enough to understand it and “they” aren’t, but in actuality we suffer just as much.

I find this bit of the article especially interesting:

DAVID DUNNING: People will often make the case, “We can’t be that stupid, or we would have been evolutionarily wiped out as a species a long time ago.” I don’t agree. I find myself saying, “Well, no. Gee, all you need to do is be far enough along to be able to get three square meals or to solve the calorie problem long enough so that you can reproduce. And then, that’s it. You don’t need a lot of smarts. You don’t have to do tensor calculus. You don’t have to do quantum physics to be able to survive to the point where you can reproduce.” One could argue that evolution suggests we’re not idiots, but I would say, “Well, no. Evolution just makes sure we’re not blithering idiots. But, we could be idiots in a lot of different ways and still make it through the day.”

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