If you’re brilliant and you know it, clap your hands

Robert Cringely of PBS’s I, Cringely directs your attention to an interesting APA article on self-perception of skill (or, as some would say, on the burden of stupidity).

Cringely’s column is relatively interesting, though the APA article is actually more interesting. It’s fairly wide-ranging, looking at incompetence in humor, logical reasoning, grammar, and so on. One of the most interesting tidbits turned up by the study is probably the confirmation that the unskilled tend to overestimate their own competence. It’s not that everyone overestimates her ability by a landslide; people of average ability (in any area) tend to overestimate their ability by a little, but not by much. People of unusual incompetence, however, “grossly overestimat[e] their ability relative to their peers.”

Another interesting effect that the article demonstrates is that the highly skilled (those in the top quartile) tend to underestimate their own ability, not so much because they are unaware of their skill as because they simply assume others will do equally well in the task at hand.

Anyway, the point is, it’s an interesting article, worth a read if you’re curious. (The article is also pretty straightforward and easy to understand, as journal articles go, so there’s no need to be intimidated by the fact that it appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Which, maybe you would be and maybe you wouldn’t.)

(APA: “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments” by Justin Kruger and David Dunning [1999]; article discovered via I, Cringely: “Clueless in Seattle” by Robert Cringely [June 17, 2004])