Too stupid to know they're stupid

The Anosognosic’s Dilemma:  Some people are so stupid they don’t know they’re stupid. The New York Times’ Opinionator Blog focuses on research by David Dunning, a Cornell social psychology professor and his graduate student Justin Kruger.

Errol Morris interviews Dunning, who says, “If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent.”

DAVID DUNNING: If you knew it, you’d say, “Wait a minute. The decision I just made does not make much sense. I had better go and get some independent advice.” But when you’re incompetent, the skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is. In logical reasoning, in parenting, in management, problem solving, the skills you use to produce the right answer are exactly the same skills you use to evaluate the answer. And so we went on to see if this could possibly be true in many other areas. And to our astonishment, it was very, very true.

College students who were doing badly in grammar, didn’t know it, Dunning found in his research. You’d think someone taking a class would get feedback from the instructor. Are they not being told their grammar is poor? Or are they very good at not hearing what they don’t want to hear?

Dunning praises Donald Rumsfeld’s ruminations on “unknown unknowns,” the stuff you don’t know that you don’t know. Morris seems incapable of crediting Rumsfeld with insight. It’s kind of funny to watch him struggle to deny that Rumsfeld was on to something.

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