Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Unskilled and Optimistic: Overconfident Predictions despite Calibrated Knowledge of Relative Skill

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Unskilled and Optimistic: Overconfident Predictions despite Calibrated Knowledge of Relative Skill

Article excerpt

Abstract Those who are less skilled tend to overestimate their abilities more than do those who are more skilled-the so-called Dunning-Kruger effect. Less-skilled performers presumably have less of the knowledge needed to make informed guesses about their relative performance. If so, the Dunning-Kruger effect should vanish when participants do have access to information about their relative ability and performance. Competitive bridge players predicted their results for bridge sessions before playing and received feedback about their actual performance following each session. Despite knowing their own relative skill and showing unbiased memory for their performance, they made overconfident predictions consistent with a Dunning-Kruger effect. This bias persisted even though players received accurate feedback about their predictions after each session. The finding of a Dunning-Kruger effect despite knowledge of relative ability suggests that differential self-knowledge is not a necessary precondition for the Dunning-Kruger effect. At least in some cases, the effect might reflect a different form of irrational optimism.

Keywords Social cognition . Decision making . Belief updating . Overconfidence

Published online: 24 January 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

In domains ranging from driving to intelligence to sense of humor, well over 50 % of people believe themselves to be above-median performers (see Dunning, Heath & Suls, 2004). Moreover, those with less skill tend to overestimate their abilities more than do those with more skill-the so-called Dunning-Kruger effect (Kruger & Dunning, 1999). Why are people so poorly calibrated in their self-assessments, and why is this bias greater for poor performers?

The traditional account (Kruger & Dunning, 1999) attributes the difference to metacognition: Due to gaps or distortions in their knowledge base, the unskilled inaccurately assess their own relative abilities. Because they tend not to realize how unskilled they actually are, they inflate their estimates of their own abilities. In contrast, skilled performers can better assess their own skill, so they are less overconfident in their relative self-assessments. Other factors, including regression to the mean (e.g., Krueger & Mueller, 2002) and task difficulty (e.g., Burson, Larrick & Klayman, 2006), can contribute to differences between good and poor performers, but the tendency for people as a group, and for the unskilled in particular, to exaggerate their own abilities persists (Dunning, 2011; Ehrlinger, Johnson, Banner, Dunning & Kruger, 2008).

In the vast majority of studies documenting the Dunning- Kruger effect, participants have judged how well they were performing without an objective metric of their own performance or of that of their peers (for an exception, see Park & Santos-Pinto, 2010). The use of subjective ability domains (e.g., sense of humor; Kruger & Dunning, 1999) and the lack of information about relative standings might make these domains more subject to biases in self-assessment. Even for more objective domains (e.g., math ability), participants often lack access to information about themselves or their peers when making their relative judgments.

In most studies, participants rate their performance on a single, just-completed measure, typically without feedback about relative performance. To my knowledge, only one published study has explored predictions about future performance by people who are fully aware of their own skill level (Park & Santos-Pinto, 2010). In that study, chess players (and poker players) predicted their final scores in a tournament before play began, and their expected results exceeded the actual ones. Moreover, weaker players were more overconfident than better players (see also Chabris & Simons, 2010).

Studies of subjective judgments in the absence of feedback conflate several reasons why people might overestimate their abilities. …

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