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Why Are The Ignorant So Confident?

We’ve all met them – people are abysmally wrong and yet incredibly confident. We see it night after night on the Jimmy Kimmel Live! TV show as he sends out camera crews to catch hipsters bluffing about things they know absolutely nothing about. Well, writer David Dunning in Pacific Standard magazine has written a remarkable piece on the research into why we are all confident idiots. I strongly encourage you to read the article because it will explain so much about people. But here’s some highlights that stood out to me:

— It’s been said that being educated is being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.  It sounds simple, but it’s incredibly hard to achieve. Too often, we fail to recognize the frequency and scope of our ignorance.

— The phenomenon is actually known as the “Dunning-Kruger Effect.”  What’s amazing about the effect is that in so many cases, incompetence doesn’t leave us humbled or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are too often blessed with inappropriate over-confidence, buoyed by something that just feels like knowledge.

— The truth is, education often produces illusory confidence.  Because we know some things, we assume we know other things as well. In other words, we wrongly assume that because something is correct in one context, it must be correct in others.

— It’s particularly evident with people who strongly believe in a particular worldview.  Largely because they stop investigating and questioning what they believe, so they don’t let facts, logic or knowledge get in their way.

— Rampant mis-information from the Internet and news media amplifies the problem.  The thinking that “It was on the Internet so it MUST be true!” impacts all of us more than we think.

So how can we fix the problem? How can we avoid being an overconfident idiot? Here’s what Dunning suggests:

1. Find a devil’s advocate.  Make sure you’re surrounded by people who will question your ideas and opinions. While that can often be uncomfortable and irritating, it can save you enormous embarrassment later.

2. Be your own devil’s advocate.  Always re-think your ideas and opinions. Double check the facts – particularly before you share on social media or share publicly.

3. Get in a habit of considering the opposite.  What would happen if the opposite were true?

4. Lastly, regularly seek good advice from smart, mature people.

I would also add – never be afraid to simply say, “I don’t know.”  The fear of that simple statement is the reason Jimmy Kimmel Live! is so popular. With a camera in their face, people on the street are simply afraid of admitting their ignorance, and then are humiliated in front of millions. You may never be interviewed on national television, but confessing you don’t know something could save you in plenty of situations – with the boss, in a meeting, or in front of another group.

“I don’t know.” Practice it and get over the embarrassment. It could save you from a lot more.

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  1. To know what you don’t know is the beginning of true wisdom.
    A 5th way to address the problem is to daily ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you are wrong; and then take the time to listen to Him, humbly acknowledge what He shows you, and make every effort to correct it.

  2. …for some reason this post, particularly the title, brings to mind one of my favorite lines from one of the least politically-correct comedians of the mid-20th century, Brother Dave Gardner– “…liberals are just people who have been educated beyond their capacity.”

  3. I have learned that no matter how much I “know” that I realize how much I don’t know. And, for your #1 on fixing the problem…that’s what wives & children are for! 😉

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