How the Dunning-Kruger Effect Influences Our Habits and Ego

By Jimmy Warden

Have you ever met someone who has just started a new hobby or recently learned something and is also professing their knowledge to you about the topic? You know, someone that has been reading a bit about it, but only practicing it for a brief amount of time? They tend to rub people the wrong way because their confidence in their knowledge about the subject is way too high for the amount of time they’ve spent learning and practicing. As a result, they tend to seem a bit egotistical. This phenomenon is called The Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect was discovered in 1999 by social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. The essence of their study discovered that people who are the least competent in an area are the ones that tend to overestimate their skills the most. For example, that friend of yours that just started keto last week and can’t shut up about it could be falling for the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Essentially, they think they know everything there is about a topic, in this case keto, based on some shallow dives they’ve taken to gather information about keto and to try it first hand. So how does the Dunning Kruger Effect influence our habits and ego exactly?

For starters, people have misunderstandings of themselves when it comes to their new knowledge base by overestimating their competency about that topic. They believe the three Healthline articles they read about keto are sufficient enough for them to preach their profound knowledge on the topic (for the record, I have nothing against people that choose the keto lifestyle, I just thought it would be a good reference in regards to this post). This often takes place early on in the learning process. Part of it is due to the fact that the information is novel to them, so people feel that it must also be novel to other people. Hence why people are preaching newly learned information all of the time. This can end up becoming a habit because of the fact it serves the purpose of self-improvement and improvement for others.

Considering they feel like they already know everything they feel like they need to know, they get in the habit of cherry-picking information that supports their new views on the topic of interest. Rather than trying to seek out newer information or information that disproves their own point of view, people will keep their knowledge surface level. Instead of doing a deeper dive, people will have an array of surface knowledge on an array of topics. It could also end up that when we are trying to create or break habits, that we do a bit of light reading and will take on one of the first ideas that draws our interest, even though it might not be the best strategy for starting or stopping a habit. In reality, in order for people to know a lot about a subject, they must make a concerted effort in their research. That way, they can be a mile deep on a topic versus an inch deep. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case as people are often eager to share. A reason why people engage in the practice of sharing this new found surface knowledge is because it strokes the ego.

By telling others about our knowledge, we are validating our sense of self-worth. Regardless of whether or not other people actually want to hear the information, we feel that sharing is something that we should do dutifully because it will demonstrate our value as a knowledgeable person, and it will also help the other people obtain information. As a result, our ego is given a bit of a boost because of the feeling that we get when we are doing something good for ourselves and others. This is a careful line to tread because we can very easily get into an area of overconfidence and we’ll be putting the Dunning Kruger Effect on full blast when we are around individuals with a much higher level of competence than us.

Often times people are in love with what they know rather than what they don’t know, so they’ll continue to share what they know despite people trying to inform them about what they don’t know. This is really the conundrum of a “know it all”. Know it alls are those types of people that I mentioned at the beginning of the post that constantly profess their knowledge to others and often times it is about the same topic within a category or subtopic. These are people that will argue until they’re blue in the face about the little knowledge that they hold. No matter how much you try to expand on their ideas or try to counter their argument, they will stay cemented in their stance. In order for us to try to steer clear of the Dunning Kruger Effect when it comes to our habits and ego, it is important that we try to keep a few ideas in mind if we want to make real change in our lives.

First and foremost, we must try to fall in love with what we don’t know. Even if we’ve gathered some rich information during our exploration period, we should continue to do the work that will lead us to more findings. When it comes to habit formation, each day should be like a calculated experiment. Are we taking steps in the right direction or are we just doing what we’ve always done because it has worked with the body of knowledge we already had? Next, we should be real with our self-assessments. Are we really as good or as smart as we think we are? Or is it we’re in an environment where people are just as untalented or uneducated as we are? Whatever the case may be, it is important to do an earnest self-assessment to be more realistic with our analysis. This will give us a clearer picture of what steps need to be taken to legitimately improve. This can also come in handy when it comes to analyzing our habits, too. Are we as healthy as we think we are or are we just slightly healthier than most of the other people around us? Lastly, staying curious and staying consistent will be the two biggest fuels for our self-improvement fire. The more questions that we can ask ourselves about what we’re trying to do and how we want to do it will be the ignition needed for action. Staying consistent will also help us stay on the path that we’re looking to travel down because one step forward in the right direction will always be better than no steps at all.

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