Not Taking Sides

Consensus is a political concept, not a scientific one, concerning the belief systems of the participants.

Unskilled and Unaware of It

Posted by nottakingsides on February 15, 2007

I sometimes like to be reminded of my unawareness of my unawareness.

“In the neurosciences, practitioners and researchers occasionally come across the curious malady of anosognosia. Caused by certain types of damage to the right side of the brain, anosognosia leaves people paralyzed on the left side of their body. But more than that, when doctors place a cup in front of such patients and ask them to pick it up with their left hand, patients not only fail to comply but also fail to understand why. When asked to explain their failure, such patients might state that they are tired, that they did not hear the doctor’s instructions, or that they did not feel like responding–but never that they are suffering from paralysis. In essence, anosognosia not only causes paralysis, but also the inability to realize that one is paralyzed.

In this article, we proposed a psychological analogue to anosognosia. We argued that incompetence, like anosognosia, not only causes poor performance but also the inability to recognize that one’s performance is poor.”

Although I somewhat enjoy being unaware of my incompetence, I still enjoy torturing myself with this study


People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.”

“Thus far, we have shown that people who lack the knowledge or wisdom to perform well are often unaware of this fact. We attribute this lack of awareness to a deficit in metacognitive skill. That is, the same incompetence that leads them to make wrong choices also deprives them of the savvy necessary to recognize competence, be it their own or anyone else’s.”“It thus appears that extremely competent individuals suffer a burden as well. Although they perform competently, they fail to realize that their proficiency is not necessarily shared by their peers.”“We do not mean to imply that people are always unaware of their incompetence. We doubt whether many of our readers would dare take on Michael Jordan in a game of one-on-one, challenge Eric Clapton with a session of dueling guitars, or enter into a friendly wager on the golf course with Tiger Woods. Nor do we mean to imply that the metacognitive failings of the incompetent are the only reason people overestimate their abilities relative to their peers.”“Although our emphasis has been on the miscalibration of incompetent individuals, along the way we discovered that highly competent individuals also show some systematic bias in their self appraisals. Across the four sets of studies, participants in the top quartile tended to underestimate their ability and test performance relative to their peers, Z s = 5.66 and 4.77, respectively, p s < .0001. What accounts for this underestimation? Here, too, the regression effect seems a likely candidate: Just as extremely low performances are likely to be associated with slightly higher perceptions of performance, so too are extremely high performances likely to be associated with slightly lower perceptions of performance.”” It suggested that one way to make people recognize their incompetence is to make them competent. Once we taught bottom-quartile participants how to solve Wason selection tasks correctly, they also gained the metacognitive skills to recognize the previous error of their ways. Of course, and herein lies the paradox, once they gained the metacognitive skills to recognize their own incompetence, they were no longer incompetent.”

 “Finally, in order for the incompetent to overestimate themselves, they must satisfy a minimal threshold of knowledge, theory, or experience that suggests to themselves that they can generate correct answers. In some domains, there are clear and unavoidable reality constraints that prohibits this notion. For example, most people have no trouble identifying their inability to translate Slovenian proverbs, reconstruct an 8-cylinder engine, or diagnose acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. In these domains, without even an intuition of how to respond, people do not overestimate their ability.”

Heres the full study in PDF


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