The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Strassbourg Windows 2

Evan Bortnick 

Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden

Have you ever wondered how really stupid people seem to be oblivious to their own stupidity? Have you ever noticed this cognitive self-blindness in yourself in a particular life domain or skill (after the fact, of course)? If so, then there’s hope. I mean, if I had a dime for every time I slapped myself in the head for doing something really stupid, or having a truly unproductive, childish thought, I’d be a wealthy man. Without judgment of others (OK, with as little as possible), it’s always seemed important to see clearly when someone else is having a childish, unproductive thought or doing something incredibly stupid. How exactly do we get from having stupid thoughts and making dumb decisions to having productive, self-supporting thoughts and effective decisions?

This is what fascinates me about the so-called “Dunning-Kruger Effect”. David Dunning and Justin Kruger were research psychologists at Cornell University and were curious about how individuals perceived themselves and their skill levels. What they discovered in numerous experiments was that those whose measurable skill level was far below average tended consistently to rate themselves as far above average. Conversely, those whose skill level was above average consistently rated themselves as well below average. In other words, when you’re being stupid, you’re generally too stupid to recognize the fact that you’re being stupid. The Socratic Paradox occurs to me here: “I know that I do not know.”According to Plato’s account, Socrates was wise BECAUSE he could utter this. In other words, being convinced of your own lack of knowing is a prerequisite for knowing. Now that’s a paradox.


Dunning-Kruger likely described this originally as a sociological ‘effect’. In thinking about it, I find it immensely valuable on a personal level. Taken to its logical conclusion, there is great wisdom in philosophical doubt, insecurity and humility. Of course we strive to be smart and know stuff and even, at times, show off our knowing for the benefit of others. It feels good. However, in your relationship to yourself and your own knowledge, as valuable as confidence may be (especially for the outside world), perhaps the pre-assumption that you can learn from ANYBODY is a gas-pedal for learning the new.

This is a winning combination in any kind of coaching. If you can manage the exquisite balance between non-judging and the respectful pointing out of the incredibly stupid, you’re encouraging the breakdown of this dangerous cognitive filter in your client. I’ve found this MUCH easier to do with clients than to do with myself. I’ve also found it to be profoundly worth it!

Evan Bortnick 

Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden

About evanb54

I'm a passionate, curious learning junkie--- an X-Opera Singer turned Voice Teacher, Voice Teachers Teacher, NLP Lehrtrainer, Off-Path Coach, Cranio-Sacral worker and a few other even less mainstream things. Everything I've learned or taught revolves around THE VOICE. The Voice as a tool of artistic expression. The Voice as a tool of emotional transparency. The voice as a tool of flexible communication. More information can be found at my Institute Site: The Wiesbaden Academy of the Vocal Muse Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden, Coaching, Voice Pedagogy
This entry was posted in Communication, Congruence, Emotional Intelligence, Fitness, Inner Game, Intelligence, Pedagogy, Self Expression, Thinking and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Dunning-Kruger Effect

  1. Al Borrtnick says:

    True, but it is also incredibly difficult to be non-judgmental when you are “pointing out..incredibly stupid” and even more difficult for the “incredibly stupid” to understand that you are “non-judgmental.”

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