June 30, 2020

Why Dumb People Think They are Smart

On April 19, 1995, McArthur Wheeler walked into two Pittsburg banks and robbed them at gunpoint in broad daylight.

Interestingly, he neither wore a mask nor a disguise and to make matters more intriguing, he smiled at the surveillance cameras before leaving the banks.

Not surprisingly, it didn't take the Pittsburg police much time to track him down.

When Wheeler was arrested just a few hours later, he was genuinely baffled that the cops were able to identify him as the robber and as he was being led away, he mumbled in disbelief - "But I wore the juice."

Wheeler believed that if lemon juice can be used to make invisible ink, applying it on his face should make him invisible to surveillance cameras.

This utterly bizarre and amusing crime not only made many scratch their heads in bewilderment, but also caught the attention of a Cornell university psychologist David Dunning.

Along with his research assistant Justin Kruger, David Dunning conducted an experiment in which he asked 65 participants to rate a series of jokes.

What they found was fascinating.

People who were bad at recognizing what others would find funny were also more likely to think they were excellent judges of humor.

In other words, they were not only bad at recognizing funny jokes, they were also bad at recognizing their personal shortcomings as a poor judge of humor.

I know what you are thinking - humor is subjective, what's funny for one isn't necessarily funny for others.

But this experiment was replicated across other domains - logical reasoning and grammar and the results were similar.

To sum up - the more incompetent, unaware and ignorant we are, the more likely we are to overestimate our ability, competence and knowledge.

This shouldn't be too surprising.

Just look around and you will find plenty of validation - from politicians to their rabid supporters to clueless family members fiercely debating at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

When I learned about the Dunning–Kruger effect, I reflected on my own strengths and weaknesses.

As someone who suffered from self-esteem and confidence issues for a long time, there aren't many things I honestly think I am good at.

There are too many things I am absolutely terrible at - far too many to list.

But here are a few things that I am good at:

I excel in cricket and my past performances, feedback from coaches and comments from friends and rival teams validate my assessment.

I am very good at coming up with creative ideas and concepts but I suck at executing them.

Let's see... what else am I good at...

Ah! I am a very good driver...

But my wife disagrees.

She thinks - in fact she often tells me I am a terrible driver.

She must be right.

But you know what, I disagree. 

I think I am a very good driver. I just get irritated when I have a slow driver in front of me and get upset when a rash one cuts in front of me.

As George Carlin said, "Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"

About the author 


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