Tuesday, 26 March 2013 12:57

Confidence and the Dunning-Kruger Effect Featured

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It is common knowledge that around the world that America is known for its arrogance and over confidence. The typical American response is one filled with self-preservatory bias that hinders our ability to take such accusations seriously. With all the economic failures of our society as of late, I think we must reexamine many of the attitudes and motivations we have as a society. One of these examinations must be about the role of arrogance and over confidence in our society and then addressing it through education.

The role that both over-confidence and arrogance plays in society was not blatantly evident to me until I came across an idea called the Dunning-Kruger effect. According to Dunning and Kruger's article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people who performed in the bottom 25 percentile of experimental assessments of their abilities generally over estimated their performance. In addition, they often believed that their abilities were above average (Dunning and Kruger 1130). Those who scored in the top 25 percentile had just the opposite opinion of their abilities. They generally underestimated their abilities and assumed that everyone else must have the same, or better, knowledge and skills pertaining to a particular subject (Dunning and Kruger 1131).

With the above-mentioned Dunning Kruger effect in mine, consider how this might affect employers. According to Forbes, one of the top three traits employers look for is confidence (Casserly). Suppose then, that two potential new-hires interview for a job. One seems unconfident in his abilities to outperform the next person. The other person has tons of confidence and makes the employer feel comfortable that he can do the job. The employer, according to Forbes, may be enticed by the oozing confidence, even though that person may be skillfully inferior to the previous person. Imagine this effect occurring on a societal level where those who are incompetent get the jobs because they display confidence due to ignorance, and the skilled are overlooked because they underestimate themselves. Companies, and society as a whole, lose valuable resources and efficiency, and overlook fantastic individuals in this interplay where society mistakes confidence as a sign of skill.

The solution to correct this imbalance in society is quite simple: education. Making individuals and companies aware that just because a speaker is the loudest, most obnoxious, or most confident, does not correlate to their knowledge and ability, is a step toward giving them the tools they need to make better decisions. Imagine, for example, if the same employer in the previous example saw the same two potential new-hires again. This time, however, he is armed with the knowledge of the Dunning-Kruger effect. He might would look past the confidence of the ignorant and the underestimate of the knowledgeable and hire the correctly skilled person for the job. Without knowledge of the Dunning-Kruger effect, however, he might be swayed to hire the over confident ignorant and do his company an injustice. Perhaps that ignorant continues to move up the company ladder, becomes the CEO, and runs the company into the ground, thereby causing a chain reaction leading to a worldwide global economic crisis.

This idea of the incompetent rising through the ranks is nothing new in nature. An example of this can be found in baboon culture where the biggest and loudest rise through the ranks to establish themselves as the arrogant alpha males of their society. Typically, the alpha male has sexual rights to all the females and may exclude other males from having any sexual rights. Additionally, they generally make sure, when food is around, that they get their fill first and could care less about the underlings. On one fateful day, however, one tribe of baboons, as noted in the film "Stress: Portrait of a Kille," came across some trash infected with tuberculosis. The alpha males, being arrogant and thinking they deserved their fill first, ate all the meat in the trash and died: leaving the baboon tribe without any alpha males (Goldman). These events lead to a dramatic change in that tribe's society. Twenty years later the females of the tribe are treated equally, the males are non-aggressive, and new baboons introduced to the group learn that it is not acceptable to treat others badly (Goldman). What these things indicate is that the alpha male arrogant type of behavior is not innate; it is mostly learned. Although we certainly cannot poison alpha male society in the USA, this field study of baboons show that it might be possible, with education, to fix some of the trends associated with that type of behavior which would lead not only to skill favored over arrogance, but a reduction in stress as well (Goldman).

A strictly biological view of human nature might suggest that it is inevitable that alpha males rise to the top and that over-confidence is a natural mainstay of primate superiority. The film mentioned above however discounts this notion by showing it is possible for a society to find a better, more productive, and less stressful way to exist. Others might point out that it is good for individuals to have confidence. I would assert, although this is true, that over valuing confidence has a negative consequence on society as a whole. For example, sure it is good that the individual got the job, but it is bad for the company that he has fewer skills than his under confident peer.

After considering all this, it becomes clearer what the economic crisis has to do with over confidence. A society that over values confidence promotes inept individuals to do the job rather than more qualified, but under-confident people. Although this Dunning Kruger effect certainly was not all of the reason for the economic meltdown, or even most of the reason, surely it is a systemic error within our society that helped that meltdown along. The key to solving this systemic error is making people aware that it exists: through education.

Works Cited

Casserly, Meghan. Top Five Personality Traits Employers Hire Most. 10 April 2012. Web. 13 10 2012.

Dunning, David and Justin Kruger. "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77 (1999): 1121-1134. Print.

Stress: Portrait of a Killer. Dir. John Heminway. Perf. Linda, John Heminway, Robert M. Sapolsky, Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol A. Shively, Michael Marmot, Elissa Epel, Tessa Roseboom, and Marcus Lovett Goldman. 2008. Film.


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