The Incompetent Are Blissfully

New York Times News Service

There are many incompetent people in the world. Dr. David A. Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, and Justin Kruger, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, are haunted by the fear they might be two of them. Dunning and Kruger worry about this because, according to their research, published in the December 1999 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent.

On the contrary. People who do things badly are usually supremely confident of their abilities - more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.

The researchers say that one reason why the incompetent tend to be so blissfully self-assured is that the skills required for competence are often the same skills necessary to recognize competence in the first place. Subjects who scored lowest on tests of logic, English grammar and humor were also the most likely to "grossly overestimate" how well they had performed. With this deficiency in self-monitoring skills, "not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it," the article said.

Furthermore, the "most incompetent individuals being less able to recognize competence in others" only served to further inflate their estimates of their own abilities.

(edited by David Van Alstyne)

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