Why the unskilled are unaware: Further explorations of (absent)
self-insight among the incompetent
, Kerri Johnson
, Matthew Banner
, David Dunning
, Justin Kruger
Department of Psychology, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306-4301, USA
Department of Communication Studies, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA
Department of Psychology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-7601, USA
Leonard N. Stern School of Business, New York University, New York, NY 10012, USA
Received 16 December 2006
Available online 23 October 2007
Accepted by Scott Highhouse
People are typically overly optimistic when evaluating the quality of their performance on social and intellectual tasks. In particular,
poor performers grossly overestimate their performances because their incompetence deprives them of the skills needed to recognize
their deﬁcits. Five studies demonstrated that poor performers lack insight into their shortcomings even in real world settings and when
given incentives to be accurate. An additional meta-analysis showed that it was lack of insight into their own errors (and not mistaken
assessments of their peers) that led to overly optimistic estimates among poor performers. Along the way, these studies ruled out recent
alternative accounts that have been proposed to explain why poor performers hold such positive impressions of their performance.
Ó 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Competence; Self-conﬁdence; Metacognition; Self-insight
One of the painful things about our time is that those
who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imag-
ination and understanding are ﬁlled with doubt and
Bertrand Russell (1951)
As Bertrand Russell noted, those most conﬁdent in
their level of expertise and skill are not necessarily those
who should be. Surveys of the psychological literature
suggest that perception of skill is often only modestly
correlated with actual level of performance, a pattern
found not only in the laboratory but also in the class-
room, health clinic, and the workplace (for reviews,
see Dunning, 2005; Dunning, Heath, & Suls, 2004; Ehr-
linger & Dunning, 2003; Falchikov & Boud, 1989; Har-
ris & Schaubroeck, 1988; Mabe & West, 1982).
Surveys of the literature also suggest that people hold
positive beliefs about their competence to a logically
impossible degree (for reviews, see Alicke & Govorun,
2005; Dunning, 2005; Dunning et al., 2004). In one com-
mon example of this tendency, several research studies
have shown that the average person, when asked, typi-
cally claims that he or she is ‘‘above average’’, (Alicke,
1985; Brown, 1986; Dunning, Meyerowitz, & Holzberg,
1989; Weinstein, 1980) which is, of course, statistically
impossible. These biased self-evaluations are seen in
important real world settings as well as the laboratory.
0749-5978/$ - see front matter Ó 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
We thank Alba Cabral, Leah Doane, Alex Emmot, Donny
Thometz, Kevin van Aelst, and Nathalie Vizueta for assisting in the
collection of data. We also thank members of the Dunning laboratory
and, in particular, Nicholas Epley, for many helpful suggestions. This
research was supported ﬁnancially by National Institute of Mental
Health Grant RO1 56072, awarded to Dunning.
Corresponding author. Fax: +1 850 644 7739.
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (J. Ehrlinger).
Available online at www.sciencedirect.com
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 105 (2008) 98–121