Monday, January 04, 2016

Interesting Trivia: Dunning-Kruger Effect

Before my freshman year at college, there was an orientation held for students and parents.  One of the sessions split us up and sent parents to one lecture and students to another. Joy of joys, I was split up into a session for students of the Honors Program (a program I am quite happy I was a part of overall, but that didn't quite GET me) where this tiny little woman with a strangely mesmerizing haircut and a squeaky voice talked to me about the Imposter Syndrome, which is a term that describes the tendency of accomplished individuals to downplay their accomplishments because they either think they are frauds and/or that they are undeserving of their successes. Squeaky Voice Lady (REAL NAME Dr. Darrow) told us, I'm paraphrasing here, to get the fuck over it.

Cut to me running to the bathroom sobbing where I ran into my mother who was similarly crying.
(Tangent #1: The student union of this school has since been redesigned, so I don't know if this amazing bathroom still exists, but from 1997 - 2001, the women's bathroom next to the ballroom in the union had a gorgeous sitting area. Sometimes I would study there.)

We looked at each other, laughed, and after a few minutes we went back to our respective meetings.

None of this Imposter Syndrome stuff made sense to me, honestly. I was a fraud. I was going to college on an academic scholarship that I got because I was lucky. I was lucky I was born to American citizens. I was lucky I was born white. I was lucky I was born with a brain that worked typically enough to pass through school. I was lucky that I had mentors who helped me develop that brain. I was lucky I had parents who, although not particularly well-educated or well-financed, were involved and supportive. I was lucky. I was not deserving.

(Tangent #2: I still think this. But now I'm even luckier because I have my sackful of education, a wonderful husband, and a great(ish) cat. I got out of poverty and it was due to luck. Yes, there was hard work that went into it, but there are plenty of people who work as hard as me and won't succeed because they aren't as lucky as I was and continue to be.)

At some point in the last year or so,  I was introduced to the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which is a bias that people have in determining how difficult a task is. Unskilled people tend to overestimate their own abilities at particular tasks because they don't recognize their own ineptitude and underestimate how hard a task is. On the other hand, highly skilled individuals frequently underestimate how hard a task is because it's so easy for them (and, therefore, underestimate their own abilities because they think everyone has those abilities.)
Source: Indexed

This has a name! This explains why my C students honestly don't understand why their work is inferior to A students. It's why my A students honestly don't understand why everyone doesn't get an A in my classes. It's why I don't understand why everyone doesn't get an A in my classes.  It's why I genuinely don't understand why Peggy Hill can't figure out the area of a circle or why Jimmy Pesto Jr. thinks he's a good dancer. It explains all those bad auditions on American Idol (who's pumped for the last season starting on Wednesday and is going to watch it for nostalgic purposes?!?!). It explains why my stupid cousin-in-law, who has over $300,000 in student loan debt, but just had her fourth child and works at Walmart twenty hours a week, can sleep at night, but I stay up at night worrying about what how my nieces and nephews will make it in an endless future of war and famine.  It explains the world.

Now go forth and do with that information what you will.

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