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Home » David Dunning: Why Incompetent People Think They’re Amazing (Transcript)

David Dunning: Why Incompetent People Think They’re Amazing (Transcript)

David Dunning

Here is the full transcript of David Dunning’s Talk: Why Incompetent People Think They’re Amazing at TED conference. 


Are you as good at things as you think you are? How good are you at managing money?

What about reading people’s emotions? How healthy are you compared to other people you know? Are you better than average at grammar?

Knowing how competent we are and how are skill stack up against other people’s is more than a self-esteem boost. It helps us figure out when we can forge ahead on our own decisions and instincts and when we need, instead, to seek out advice.

Dunning-Kruger effect

But psychological research suggests that we’re not very good at evaluating ourselves accurately. In fact, we frequently overestimate our own abilities. Researchers have a name for this phenomena, the Dunning-Kruger effect. This effect explains why more than 100 studies have shown that people display illusory superiority. We judge ourselves as better than others to a degree that violates the laws of math.

When software engineers at two companies were asked to rate their performance, 32% of the engineers at one company and 42% at the other put themselves in the top 5%.

In another study, 88% of American drivers described themselves as having above average driving skills. These aren’t isolated findings.

On average, people tend to rate themselves better than most in disciplines ranging from health, leadership skills, ethics, and beyond. What’s particularly interesting is that those with the least ability are often the most likely to overrate their skills to the greatest extent.

People measurably poor at logical reasoning, grammar, financial knowledge, math, emotional intelligence, running medical lab tests, and chess all tend to rate their expertise almost as favorably as actual experts do.

So who’s most vulnerable to this delusion? Sadly, all of us because we all have pockets of incompetence we don’t recognize.

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