Monday, May 5, 2014

“Dunning-Kruger effect” – an editorial

Somewhere in the mid-1970s, after having spent my first few years as an editor, I noticed an odd pattern: Some of the weakest writers I worked with thought they were strong writers, and some of the strongest writers thought they were just average writers.

Roughly 40 years later – a few weeks ago – I was surprised to learn that psychologists have a name for the pattern: “Dunning-Kruger effect.” In short, the effect is that some low-skilled people have a mental bias that blinds them to the inferiority of their skill; some high-skilled people, because their skill seems to come easily to them, assume (wrongly) that that skill comes easily to most people.

Here’s the Wikipedia entry on Dunning-Kruger effect.

The Takeaway: Of course, Messrs. Dunning and Kruger could be wrong. All I am saying here is that I have observed something like Dunning-Kruger effect in the world of writing. I am not a psychologist but I am a veteran editor and as such* I give you this advice: If you are (or would like to become) a professional writer, just keep in mind that you may be substantially overestimating or underestimating your skill. Seek the judgements of experienced writers and editors and take those judgements into consideration.

See disclaimer.

*I’m not showing off, but I just want to point out that this is an example of a correct use of the phrase as such. Most of the time you hear or read this phrase, the speaker or writer is using it incorrectly. For more information, go here.

1 comment:

  1. That bias of the unskilled that leads them to overestimate their abilities relative to others' is that they lack the minimal level of competence required to discern the difference between competence and incompetence. To put it another way, the ignorant all too often feel knowledgeable because included in the set of things of things they aren't aware of is their own ignorance.

    The Dunning-Kruger effect can be seen rearing its ugly head all the time. One curative agent against this expression of the Dunning-Kruger effect is a good education. One of the things a good education can help one understand is just how little one actually knows.