The Dunning-Kruger Effect

8:58 AM Sunday, September 26, 2010

Years ago I was teaching karate at the YMCA. During that time the Billy Blanks Tae Bo fitness was all the rage. Before the karate class I was standing in a hallway window looking into a gym full of some 80 + people all doing Tae Bo. Everybody in the Tae Bo class where kicking and punching themselves into a great frenzy.

After the class broke-up a young gal came up to me and she says, “That's a great work out.” “Yeah it sure looks like it.” I reply as I cast a hand in her direction acknowledging her sweat. “It feels great to know that I can finally defend myself.” she says, and I don't say a word, just smile and nod. Internally I was stunned by the bold confidence of her declaration.

Guess what? Her comment, and sense of high ability, is called The Dunning-Kruger Effect. It reads this way; people reach false conclusions about their abilities based on how they feel, not facts. Further their inability to analyze their skill doesn’t allow them to see their lack of ability. This lack of internal analysis lets them believe that they are really on top of something, even to the point of rating themselves above other who are truly competent.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is actually a two edged sword in that it is based in an error about their own abilities and then it gets compounded by an internal knowledge that they are better than those that are truly competent. Wow, Dunning-Kruger, have to remember that.

There is a quote from Bertrand Russell, a British Philosopher and Mathematician amongst other things, about the confident it goes; “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”

So at the end of the day people who experience the The Dunning-Kruger Effect are happy people, just like that gal that felt the Tae Bo class finally gave her an understanding of physical self-defenses, as well as a set of skills. The rest of us will be over here going through our own happy, and slightly neurotic, never ending explorations of the arts.


  1. This is outstanding, thanks!

    Charles James

  2. Thank you sir, appreciate the kudo

    Kris Wilder

  3. If it's not where you heard about the Dunning-Kruger effect to begin with you may find this interesting:

    The original study suggests that the best way to introduce someone like the woman you mention to her actual ability level would be to enroll her in a genuine karate class.

    Perpetual Beginner

  4. Per-Beginner

    No I have not seen that website. However I now cast my fist to the air and scream your name as you have sent me off into a time suck!

    Looks like a good blog.

    Be well.


    Kris Wilder

  5. If you think reading the site is a time suck, try writing for it. You end up spending all your spare time poking in the corners of the web looking for just that right tidbit to haul back like a cat bringing its owner a dead bird.

    (I'm not a current writer, nor the writer of that particular article, but I did write a dozen or so articles for them a few years back.)

    Perpetual Beginner

  6. Ha, great to finally have name to put to this mysterious malady, good post!


  7. Awesome information to have! I am definitely going to sit down and give my 'skills' a good look over after reading this.

    It would be interesting to see whether or not this misplaced confidence can actually be helpful though. From what I understand about self-defense, confidence in the ability to defend one's self can be a deterrent to predators that want an 'easy lunch'.


  8. Abruña

    Yes confidence can be a deterrent. I would hope the confidence would be an out growth of real skill, not perceived skill, but you are certainly correct - confidence helps you not look like a target.

    Kris Wilder

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