The Dunning-Kruger Effect

What is it?

Is a hypothetical cognitive bias that states people with low ability at a task over estimate their own ability, and that people with high ability at a task underestimate their own ability.

Described by social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger; this bias is a result of internal illusion in people of low ability and an external misconception in people of high ability.

Related to cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from people’s inability to recognise their lack of ability. Without the self-awareness of metacognition people cannot objectively evaluate their level of competence.


Kruger & Dunning’s 1999 study ‘Unskilled and Unaware of it: How Difficulties in Recognising One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.’

Example Case – McArthur Wheeler, who, on April 19, 1995, robbed two banks while his face was covered with lemon juice, which he believed would make him invisible to CCTV. A belief that was apparently based on a misunderstanding of the chemical properties of lemon juices as an invisible ink.

Dunning & Kruger research also highlighted that training brought better evaluation of an individuals ability.

A number of experiments were performed where respondents were asked if they were familiar with certain terms related to subjects on politics, biology, physics and geography. Included with the actual facts, Dunning’s team included some made-up terms. 90 percent of respondents claimed to have at least some knowledge of the made-up terms. As Dunning has suggested in his research, the problem with ignorance of a subject, is that it can also appear to be like expertise.


I have probably seen the Dunning-Kruger Effect more often than I realise, both in every day life and ghost hunting too. Perhaps an obvious example being that often we see ghost hunters taking on investigations both of public and private locations, but rather than investigate they appear to be driven by a desire to fulfil an experience of some kind of paranormal activity.

Often modern weekender ghost hunters will make this most apparent when dealing with audio recordings, which they will present as EVP. The reason I beleive these to be an example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, is because ghost hunting group leaders will drive the conversation around proposed captured EVPs. They may then present bias in regards to the content of the EVP, explaining that random audio is actually some kind of spiritual communication. This often pushed by their ‘expertise’ within the field. Although their true ability and understanding is often lacking, in line with the effect.

As the effect suggests though many ghosts hunters will present themselves as having a vast knowledge, when in reality its limited when it comes to true investigation techniques.

A Couple of references

The Verywell Mind Website on The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Explaining the Dunning-Kruger Effect

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