Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Everyone sucks at driving but me! The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Hey there, internet! How was your week? Good? Good. My week was merely okay, but the blog's week was actually surprisingly good. The quick skinny is that last week's first ever post garnered three followers, five poll votes, and 86 page views, including three from Russia and one from Germany, which either means that this has been more successful than I'd thought, or my mom's really dedicated to making sure my feelings don't get hurt.

Sauce: Cheezburger Network
Pictured: how everyone has felt about their writing at one point.

But I'm not one to sit on my laurels, no sir/madam/other. I realize that the slightly larger-than-expected number sitting next to my viewcount could just be a fluke; all my friends and family giving me one quick pity-browse before they delete me from their history like some cheap internet whore. Well I'm not cheap, I'm classy, dammit! I'm the kind of internet whore who you have to call for from one of those uptown places and have to pay some obscene amount for because I'm going to give you the internet time of your internet life!

I feel like I lost track of what I was talking about there for a minute. Let's try that again. At least now I'm sure that most of my family has stopped reading. 

To tone down the casual prostitution references for a moment, I'm definitely pleased with the amount of views this blog got last week and I hope it stays a trend, if only to give me something to obsessively monitor at three in the morning. If you think I'm funny, share me with your friends (but I charge extra for groups), and definitely send me your ideas for topics. I've got a lot of stuff I'd love to talk about, but only so much and no guarantee that any of it's actually interesting. I'd love to see this blog become a thing that people browse when they don't wanna do work. My little way of giving back. 

Moving right along, let's start in on this week's topic, as chosen by you.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

I need to level with you, internet; I was the one who came up with this topic. I inserted it into the poll to round things out because I honestly haven't done enough research about music yet and I'm still figuring out a good way to make American Literature appealing enough. Largely, I expected it to be ignored in favor of more sexy things like Hatred in Religion and Historical Badasses, but surprisingly, a whopping sixty-percent of you (read: 3) decided you were way more interested in why everyone sucks at driving than, say, some awesome shit that Teddy Roosevelt did.

He's pretty disappointed about it, actually. He had like a whole day planned for you guys. I don't want to give it away, but I thought I heard the word "Zoo"

But hey, Under Review gives the people what it wants, especially when what it wants is one of my favorite psychological phenomenons. 

Let us first begin with a hypothetical situation. Let's say you're driving to a friend's house to watch Doctor Who and eat some pickled beats because pickled beets are kind of your guilty pleasure of foods; reviled by everyone you know, yet you simply can't stop eating them. You're sitting at the light and as it turns green, you gently toe the accelerator pedal when ZOOM! Some asshole with a sideways cap blows his red light in a shiny black Navigator. After shouting the requisite obscenities, taking a moment to calm down, and assuring yourself that you'd never drive so terribly, you casually turn left from the right hand lane. 
This, my imaginary friends, is the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

What, you thought I was going to say that everyone else actually was a terrible driver? Well, that might be true, but to everyone else, YOU are everyone else. 

Strictly speaking, the Dunning-Kruger effect is the inability of an incompetent person to accurately gauge their incompetence because, well, they're incompetent. That sounds nasty on its own simply by the number of times  I had to say "incompetent" to explain it, but that's not the end of it; the ol'e DnK rears its ugly head in all kinds of places. More on that in a bit.

A little over a decade ago, two guys, a Justin Kruger and David Dunning, published a little paper. In it, they detailed a series of experiments they did to determine people's ability to gauge their own performance or metacognitive abilities. The full text of the report can be found here, if you're one of those freaks who enjoys reading. In their first experiment, they got seven professional comedians--people who, by their definition, base the success of their job on knowing what's funny--to rate a series of jokes in funniness 1-11. 

I like to imagine that the questionnaire was written on something like this. You know, to keep the mood. For science.

Once they had a generally consistent data set, they tested 65 undergrads on how well they could pick out the genuinely good ones (I like to tell kids that when it rains, God is crying and when they ask why, I say it was probably something they did) to the...less than good ones (What's as big as a man, but weighs nothing? His shadow. Seriously? That's not even a joke.) What they found was interesting; The ones who did well tended to rate their performances pretty accurately; the average self-rating was around 66%; a full 16% above "meh", but those who did better tended to do a better job of guessing how well they did, and even started to lowball themselves occasionally. Conversely, people who did terribly skyrocketed their own score up into the sixties, even though they were scoring in the pre-teens doing very, very poorly. But humor's totally subjective, right? There's no way they had the proper supporting evidence for this experiment, right?

HAHA, NOPE! The Dunning-Kruger Dream Team has this one covered, too. 

For future reference, when I start asking rhetorical questions like that, it generally means the opposite. 

With sound knowledge that the scientific community was a resoundingly un-funny place, unwilling to accept anything even resembling a joke (as demonstrated by science's blanket ban on periodic table puns), Katman and Drobin came up with a second test for all the empiricists out there. They repeated the same experiment, but this time, instead of humor, they used logical thinking skills for the medium, and more students. In this second test, they discovered that people who scored around 12% were estimating their scores in the 60's and 70's. People who got close to 66% estimated most closely, with most people who scored higher lowballing themselves again by a few points. 

How does someone who obviously did terribly enough that dropping a class should be their best option think that their score is on par with the simply okay students? The Dunning-Kruger Effect is what's called a cognitive bias, stemming from illusory superiority (or the Lake Wobegon effect, which my mother must be absolutely titillated by). Essentially, people have an apparently inborn tendency to estimate that they're just slightly above average, even (and especially) if they're actually terrible at something. It's just a human thing we do. 

And it really is a thing that all humans do; it's everywhere. Think about it; someone who claims they're so into acting and it's really what they want to do with their lives, but who'd be upstaged if they played opposite a rock, friends who really want you to listen to this song they've been working on that totally isn't just the same two chords over and over again, people who bitch about how no one does any work around here on the 35th minute of their fifteen minute break, it's even in places like religion and morality; people who insist that something is wrong, yet totally have a legit justification for when they do it, or something just as bad and, of course, the ever-present mantra of "Why can't anyone in [where I live] drive?!"

"I tell you, I can hardly drink my coffee with all these kids just aimlessly wandering the playground. DON'T THEY KNOW ANY BETTER?"

 If you look around; and you're actually looking for it, specifically; it's just about everywhere, and it's vicious. Most vicious of all about this is that it really IS everywhere, including you. Quick test; no cheating; when I was listing all the places you see it day-to-day, how many of you were thinking to yourselves "Ugh, I TOTALLY know someone like that?" That's the Dunning-Kruger effect You heard about this thing that stupid people do, you related to it because, like, you totally have to deal with stupid people all the time, and you didn't give yourself more than maybe a cursory "and maybe I do it sometimes, too." Bottom line is; people are bad at people and so they blame all the other people because they can't gauge how bad with people they are. You're not in everyone else's head all the time, so you can't allow them the little excuses you give yourself. You turned left from the right lane because you were angry and it's the first time you've done it, so it's okay, you cheated because you really deserve that A; you worked so hard, you let yourself have that cake because you had a really rough day and at least you're not as fat as SOME people you could name. 

What I'm getting at here, internet, is that people are stupid. Not just the ambiguous "Group of stupid people out there," but all the people ever. We have anti-logic mechanisms built right in. We're stupid, and when we're especially stupid, we just kinda pretend to not notice until someone else does something even more stupid. 

Brain hurt yet? That enough science for you? Here's a kitten. Have a nice week.


  1. Whatever, I am an awesome driver.

    Also, I'm going to vote for the Christian school thing, but you should hang on to the grammar post because that sound interesting too. And I wish I could vote twice.

  2. Eh, maybe if enough people say the same, I'll include it in the poll next week, too. We Shall see.

  3. I really enjoyed that! I'm also voting for the Christian school thing too. And nice name Abby. Also my daughters :)

  4. You need to let me know when you post a new post. I'm a "member" but it doesn't email me when you write something new. SAD FACE! I drive okay...But I wouldn't say I'm great at it. Though there are some things I hope I am better at then other people...

  5. PS. I'm voting on the second one. Because that would make an AWESOME topic for my last paper. And then I can cite you as a source!