Dunning-Kruger effect is a type of psychological bias.
Dunning-Kruger effect is a type of psychological bias.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a type of psychological bias. A classic example of the Dunning-Kruger effect would be an amateur chess player overestimates their performance in the upcoming chess tournament compared to their competent counterparts.

A few other examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect include:


Example 1: Medical students headed for bad grades (e.g., D+) in their obstetrics and gynecology clerkships overestimate the grade they will get by two steps (e.g., B+) whereas their more competent peers provide better predictions of future grades.

Example 2: The bottom 25% of performers in a logical reasoning or grammar test overestimate their performance to lie above the 60th percentile.


Example 1: People who are poor performers in their work do not have any issue volunteering for extra work that can be over their capacity or skill set.

Example 2: Employers conduct a performance review, but some employees are not open to constructive criticism due to the Dunning-Kruger effect. The employees start to make excuses, such as the employer doesn’t like me rather than finding and correcting their own faults.


Supporters of opposing political parties often express confidence in their expertise about ruling parties’ policies but they have the slightest idea about specific policies.

What is the Dunning-Kruger effect?

It is a common tendency for some people to overestimate their competence in one or other areas. They may exhibit utmost confidence in areas where they have no knowledge. This effect is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning-Kruger effect was coined after two psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. It is defined as a type of cognitive bias whereby people with limited knowledge or competence in a specific area largely overestimate their knowledge.

A cognitive bias refers to the unfounded belief that many of us have, often without realizing it.

What are the causes of the Dunning-Kruger effect?

The cause for this effect may be a lack of self-awareness or self-assessments. People often forget to self-assess, as in where their knowledge or skill stands in a particular domain. This lack of self-awareness may be attributed to metacognition. Metacognition is the ability to evaluate your knowledge as well as the gaps in the knowledge. People with less skill have less metacognitive ability, which is necessary to induce awareness about their incompetence. However, people with higher competence have more metacognitive ability to understand their skills.

Another cause, which Dunning proposes, is the “double burden” associated with little expertise in a given domain. Without expertise, it is hard to perform well. Also, it is hard to know that you are underperforming unless you have the expertise. This double curse of being unskilled and unaware makes the less competent overestimate their competency, knowledge, skills, talents, etc.


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How can you overcome the Dunning-Kruger effect?

When you try to identify the Dunning-Kruger effect, it is essential to know that it can affect anyone, including you. No one can claim expertise in every domain. You can have significant knowledge about a particular area and have a knowledge gap in other areas. Moreover, the Dunning-Kruger effect isn’t a sign of low intelligence because smart people can also fall prey to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Here are a few ways that you can practice to overcome the Dunning-Kruger effect, which includes:

  • Think before jumping to any conclusions: Always take time to ponder your ability before jumping to conclusions. In this way, you could prevent overestimating your competence.
  • Accept criticism: At work, it is important to accept criticism and work on those criticisms.
  • Question about the knowledge: Challenge yourself by routinely questioning your knowledge base and the conclusions you draw. It would help you realize how wrong you are.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/19/2021
Duignan B. Dunning-Kruger Effect. Encyclopedia Britannica. September 8, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/science/Dunning-Kruger-effect

Kruger J, Dunning D. Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments. J Pers Soc Psychol. December 1999;77(6):1121-34. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12688660_Unskilled_and_Unaware_of_It_How_Difficulties_in_Recognizing_One's_Own_Incompetence_Lead_to_Inflated_Self-Assessments/link/55ef043008aedecb68fd8f4e/download