Dunning-Kruger Effect Examples in Real Life

Dunning-Kruger Effect Examples in Real LifeHave you ever faced any situation when everyone around you was looking at you to solve a problem as they had the full trust and confidence in you that you’ll solve that problem, but you, on the other hand, was doubting yourself that whether you’ll be able to solve it or not? If you can relate to this situation, you may belong to the majority of the population, which feels self-doubt in situations even when they are capable enough to deal with them. This phenomenon is known as the imposter syndrome. Now think of another exactly opposite situation, imagine when you felt like you can easily handle that problem, but nobody in your group asked you to intervene. This situation refers to the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This article will focus on the Dunning-Kruger Effect and various real-life examples related to this effect.

What is Dunning-Kruger Effect?

The Dunning-Kruger Effect was termed by the two psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. It is a cognitive bias, wherein the people believe that they are more capable than their actual calibre. These people show extreme confidence even in the areas that they are not much aware of, and they tend to overestimate their real competence. It is considered that the low cognitive abilities and lower level of self-awareness lead to the Dunning-Kruger Effect. People that possess this effect often feel that they know everything, they have the skills to solve any problem, they are always right, and others are wrong because they fail to recognise their real level of incompetence. The double curse of this effect is that it not only allows people to overestimate their performance but also people do not able to accurately judge their true level of skills and knowledge. The main reason behind the Dunning-Kruger effect is that people fail to recognize their competence levels and strengths, hence they believe that they have more knowledge and are more capable.

What is Dunning-Kruger Effect

Studies on Dunning-Kruger Effect

  • Dunning and Kruger conducted several studies to understand this effect. A paper published by Dunning and Kruger in 1999  “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments,” involves a study in which the participants (mainly included young adults) were tested based on three domains, i.e., grammar, logical abilities (reasoning), and humour. They were asked to rate themselves on these three domains, and then they were tested by the researchers in these domains through some tests. The results thus obtained was compared with the self-ratings of the participants. It was found that the incompetent people did not only perform badly in all the tests but also rated themselves inaccurately in these tests. According to the estimation of the incompetent people, they ranked 62nd percentile, while according to their test scores they ranked in 12th percentile, which shows a huge difference in their beliefs and their capabilities. This study also revealed that those with capabilities rank themselves lower in all the domains, i.e., the competent people underestimated themselves.
  • Dunning-Kruger Effect impacts people’s beliefs, decisions, and actions. In another study conducted by Dunning and Kruger, it was found that men and women scored almost equally in the science quiz, but when women were asked to rank them on their scientific reasoning abilities they underestimated their performance. It is also generally seen that some women are less likely to participate in various competitions due to their belief that they are less skilled than the man.
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  • Another study, “How Chronic Self-Views Influence and Potentially Mislead Estimates of Performance” conducted in 2003 shows the variations in the views of the Participants about themselves when they are influenced by external factors. In this study, the geographical knowledge of participants was tested, some tests were designed in a way that influence the participant’s positively while some were designed to influence their views negatively, and they were asked to rate their geographical knowledge afterwards. It was found that the participants that gave the test with a positive view performed better than those who gave the test with a negative view.
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  • According to Dunning and Kruger,

    people, at all performance levels, are equally poor at estimating their relative performance”

    To test this hypothesis, Dunning and Kruger conducted a study “Skilled or Unskilled, but Still Unaware of It: How Perception of Difficulty Drive Miscalibration in Relative Comparison” in 2006. In this study, all the participants were provided with moderately difficult tasks, and they were asked to rate their performance. It was found that there were no significant differences between the performance predictions of those who scored high and those who scored least. Moreover, when the participants were provided with the difficult tasks, the participants who performed best were poor at ranking their performance than those who performed the worst in the tests. These results were also supported by a similar study “Why the Unskilled Are Unaware: Further Explorations of Self-insight Among the Incompetent” conducted in 2008. This study also showed that the poor performers are poor at taking feedback on improvement as compared to the high performers.

  • Some recent studies on the Dunning-Kruger effect also investigate the impact of this effect in different domains such as business, politics, education, and medicine. A 2018 study conducted by American researchers indicates that the people who have less knowledge of various aspects of politics and government policies speaks more about politics and considered themselves more knowledgeable than those who really have knowledge.

Causes of Dunning-Kruger Effect

The victim of the Dunning-Kruger fails to realize their own faults and real skills and abilities of the other people, they overestimate their abilities. Following are considered as the main causes behind the Dunning-Kruger effect. Dunning proposed that the skills and the knowledge that is required to efficiently do any task are also the same qualities, which are needed for people to recognize the lack of skills.

  • According to Dunning, the lack of skills and knowledge leads to two problems. First is obviously, the person won’t be able to perform well in the tasks and the second is they will not be able to realize their mistakes and lack of skills, which dunning proposed as a double burden.
  • Lack of Metacognitions is also one of the causes of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Metacognition refers to the understanding and awareness of one’s own thoughts and cognitive abilities. Difficulties in metacognition, i.e., lack of self-awareness may lead to the Dunning-Kruger effect. It is commonly seen that most people view any situation from their own subjective point of view, and fails to view it from outside their limited viewpoint. People who lack metacognitive abilities that are crucial for the awareness of one’s lack of knowledge, consider themselves as highly knowledgeable, and skilled than others from their limited perspective.
  • You must have heard about the famous quote, “a little bit of Knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” Well, this little piece of knowledge may also be the cause of the Dunning-Kruger effect.  Little knowledge can make people believe that they know everything about a particular task or event due to the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Real-Life Examples of Dunning-Kruger Effect

From the students to the businesspersons, Dunning Kruger Effect can be seen in a wide range of sectors. According to David Dunning (mentioned in Pacific Standard Magazine, 2017)

College Students who hand in exams that will earn them Ds and Fs tend to think their efforts will be worthy of far higher grades; low-performing chess players, bridges players, and medical students, and medical students, and elderly people applying for a renewed driver’s license, similarly overestimate their competence by a long shot”

Here are some real-life examples of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

1. In Professional Environment

The Dunning-Kruger effect can be commonly observed in offices. You might encounter one or more coworkers that think that they are good at any task they are given and never cared about others opinions. These people are difficult to work with and often consider their ideas to be the best. Your boss might be the victim of the Dunning Kruger effect, which may lead him to falsely judge the employees’ performance. This effect is observed in various professions, A poll conducted on the faculty of the University of Nebraska showed that around 68% of the faculty members believe that they belong to the top 25% in terms of their teaching ability, and 90% of them believes that they are above average. Research conducted on a group of software engineers showed that around 42% of the participants rated their skills among the top 5% of their coworkers. Dunning-Kruger effect can be also seen in the employees as they may wrongly judge themselves in terms of their work performance. This is the reason complies do performance reviews, that may let them and the employees get aware of their real performance.

Dunning-Kruger Effect in Professional Environment

2. Personal Characteristics

As discussed above the Dunning-Kruger effect makes people think of themselves as superior, but in reality, everyone can not be above average. In a poll conducted on a million students in 1976, it was found that nearly 70% believed that they are among the top 50% of the leadership abilities and 60% believed that they have supreme athletic abilities. It was also found that 85% of the people rated themselves as the best in showing friendly characteristics.

3. A Talent Shows Example

You must have seen some talent shows interviews, where the participants overestimate their abilities and think of themselves as the winners of that particular show. This can be understood through the example of the American Idol contestant named William Hung as shown in the video below. People, who are the victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect find it difficult to face rejection when they get eliminated from any round.

4. Finances

According to various researches, Americans considered themselves confident about their finances and they often ignore these matters. In a National Finacial Capability Study, conducted by the US Treasury in 2012, around 25,000 participants were asked to rate their financial knowledge, and later their financial knowledge was checked by the financial test. Results showed that 800 participants, which were declared bankrupts performed the worst in the test, and shockingly, 23% of the participants that were recently declared bankrupt believes themselves the master of the finances and rated themselves the best possible score. Around 67% were confident about their false financial knowledge.

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5. Politics

A study was conducted in 2013, wherein the political parties were asked to rate their political knowledge and suggest some policies to deal with the specific problems. When the policies provided by the politicians were analysed it revealed their lack of knowledge in politics. They gave the policies so confidently that the particular problem would be solved in no time, this can only be understood through the Dunning-Kruger effect.

6. Failing to Accomplish Tasks

Remember when you made your daily task list, and at the end of the day, you realized that most of the tasks are still unfinished. This made us rethink our capabilities and add only limited tasks in our daily task list that can be finished. This may partially happen due to the Dunning-Kruger effect, wherein we believe that we are good at performing some tasks and can easily accomplish them in lesser time than we can need.

7. Marketing

The Dunning world effect also impacts the people in the marketing field. It is seen that the person who is assigned for the marketing campaign of the company often misevaluated the marketing strategies. For example, the person has designed a poster that he/she thinks is very catchy and it will entice the potential customers, while in reality, that poster might not work as the person has expected. This is because the reason that Dunning-Kruger effect is experienced by the person. The person has overestimated his/her skills and maybe he is not aware of the SEO analytics, which makes him believe that he is above average.

8. In Students

Remember those students in your class who always used to say that they deserved more scores in their exams and never accepted their responsibility for their poor performance in the class and overestimate themselves. Well, chances are that you might also be one of those students. The reason behind this is, of course, the Dunning-Kruger effect.

9. Emotional Intelligence

In 2010, three psychologists, Ames, William Sheldon, and David Dunning conducted several studies to explore emotional intelligence in terms of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Let’s discuss one of those studies; in this study, 157 masters students were asked to fill the ‘Mayer-Salovey Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT). Participants were given a detailed explanation of the EI and then asked to rate themselves on their knowledge of EI on a zero to 100 scale. Their ratings were then compared with their score on MSCEIT. The participants who believed that their EI scores should be in between the 63 to 69 percentile, scored lowest in the test with 10th percentile, while the participants who scored the highest marks, i.e., 90th percentile ranked themselves lowers to their real score by 5 to 20 points. This example proves that the Dunning-Kruger effect is not just limited to the skills that require logical reasoning, but it’s also seen in other social skills such as emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is even considered as equally or sometimes more important than IQ.

Ways to Overcome Dunning Kruger Effect

One can not get completely rid of the dunning-Kruger effect, here are some points that can help to overcome the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Improving Metacognitive Abilities

As discussed above, metacognition refers to the ability of an individual to understand and be aware of one’s own thought processes, and cognitive abilities. This is one of the main qualities that differs us from the rest of the species as we can understand our thoughts and can even change them if desire. Improvement in metacognition allows people to view any particular situation from a wider perspective rather than viewing it from their own subjective perspective.

Question Yourself

Questioning yourself before making any decisions is beneficial to deal with the Dunning-Kruger effect. The decisions that we make are influenced by several subconscious factors, hence before making any decisions one should stop and question that whether the decision is taken is in accordance with everyone perspective or if it’s just in accordance with one’s own perspective. The person should ask himself/herself that whether he/she knows about every aspect of this situation or not, in this way one can stop himself/herself from overestimating his/her abilities.


The ability to know and how you can fall for the Dunning-Kruger effect is also a great way to deal with it. If a person experiences this effect and had even fallen for it several times, he/she can realize that at what situation he/she can be the victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect. This enables the person to think and understand his/her responses rather than falling for the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Review Feedback

Honest feedback, which can either be positive or negative when taken seriously and positively by the individual can help him/her overcome the Dunning-Krung effect. Feedback allows the person to estimate his/her level of performance. By considering the feedback one can easily get to know about the areas where he/she needs improvement and the ways to improve.

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