Posts Tagged ‘Brendan Nyhan’

Donald Trump and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

January 11, 2019

There have been fourteen prior healthy memory blog posts on the Dunning-Kruger effect. Angela Fritz in the 8 Jan 2019 issued of the Washington Post wrote a timely article titled “Psychological phenomenon helps explain the confidence of the incompetent.” The subtitle is “Dunning-Kruger effect drawing a surge of interest during the Trump years.” She writes, “In their 1999 paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Dunning and Justin Kruger put data to what has been known by philosophers since Socrates, who supposedly said something along the lines of “the only true wisdom is knowing when you know nothing.” Charles Darwin followed that up in 1871 with “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

Dunning and Kruger quizzed people on several topics, such as grammar, logical reasoning, and humor. After each test, they asked the participants how they thought the did. Specifically, participants were asked how many other quiz-takers they beat. Even though the results confirmed their hypothesis, the researchers were still shocked by the results. No matter, the subject, people who did poorly on the test ranked their competence much higher. On average, test takers who scored as low as the 10th percentile ranked themselves near the 70th percentile. Those least likely to know what they were talking about believed they knew as much as the experts. These results have been replicated in at least a dozen different domains including: math skills, wine tasting, chess, medical knowledge among surgeons, and firearm safety among hunters.

The author notes that during the election and in the months after the presidential inauguration, interest in the Dunning-Kruger effect surged. Google searches for “dunning-kruger” peaked in May 2017, according to Google Trends, and has remained high. Time spent on the Dunning-Kruger Effect Wikipedia entry skyrocketed since late 2015.

The immediately preceding post, “A President Divorced from Reality” documents the enormous knowledge that Trump says he has to accompany his highest IQ. If anything, his delusional disorder only amplifies this effect.

Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at the University of Michigan said, “Donald Trump has been overestimating his knowledge for decades. It’s not surprising that he would continue that pattern into the White House.”

Steven Sloman, a cognitive psychologist at Brown University said, Dunning-Kruger “offers an explanation for a kind of hubris. The fact is, that’s Trump in a nutshell. He’s a man with zero political skill who has no idea he has zero political skill. And it’s given him extreme confidence.”

Sloman thinks that Dunning-Kruger effect has become popular outside of the research world because it is a simple phenomenon that could apply to all of us, as people are desperate to understand what’s going on in the world. Many people “cannot wrap their minds around the rise of Trump,” Sloman said. “He’s exactly the opposite of everything we value in a politician, and he’s the exact opposite of what we thought Americans valued.” It’s clear that this view was not reflective of what too many Americans actually thought.

Additional research by Dunning shows the poorest performers are also the least likely to accept criticism or show interest in self improvement.

Some might argue, what then about Trump’s success as a businessman and celebrity. His celebrity was based on the false belief that Trump was a successful businessman. The truth is that Trump is a failed businessman, who has declared bankruptcy numerous times. According to Donald Trump Jr., his father’s financing comes from the Russians. The Russians have recruited him and are using him for their purposes.

According to Dunning, the effect is particularly dangerous when someone with influence or the means to do harm doesn’t have anyone who can speak honestly about their mistakes. He notes several plane crashes that could have been avoided if the crew had spoken up to an overconfident pilot.

Dunning explained, “You get into a situation where people can be to deferential to the people in charge. You have to have people around you that are willing to tell you you’re willing to make an error.”

HM is more upset about Trump supporters than by Trump himself. Eventually the country should be rid of Trump, but his supporters will remain. How to explain them? Perhaps the Dunning-Kruger effect can be extended to them. These people eschew expertise ascribing expertise to the deep state. And they are highly confident in their contempt for expertise.

HM’s fear is that there is a stupidity pandemic that can be understood by the Dunning-Kruger effect. Research needs to be done on how to overcome this pandemic.