Overestimating Oneself.

Blaine Friedlander on how we overestimate our abilities.

Dunning and Caputo found that although participants were perfectly aware of solutions they had generated in the tasks they confronted, they were completely unable to predict how many additional solutions they had missed. Not surprisingly, when asked to evaluate themselves, participants’ self-evaluations gave these errors of omission no weight. Self-evaluations changed, however, when participants’ errors of omission were pointed out to them. “We found that when participants were given explicit information about their errors of omission, they gave those errors as much weight as they did to the solutions they found,” said Dunning.

In another article, he and Caputo conclude in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (September 2005; available online at http://www.sciencedirect.com ) that people are poor self-evaluators, in part, because they have no awareness of gaps in their knowledge or of the range of solutions they could apply to problems but do not. In short, although people know what they know, they are unaware of the universe of what they do not know.

“It’s banal in one sense but completely profound in another. We don’t know what we do not know. Thus, we do not have all the information we need to make accurate self-judgments. And it’s not a surprise that it’s hard to know yourself, because you never have all the information you need to do so, and people are often not aware of that fact,” said Dunning. “This may seem self-evident, but it’s not an insight people realize on a day-to-day basis.