MiB: David Dunning on Unknown Unknowns

Note: we recorded this March 3, just before the work-at-home lockdown had begun.


In 1999, David Dunning, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, co-wrote a paper with colleague Justin Kruger on metacognition. Titled “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments (PDF), the paper describes why so many of us who are unskilled are also wholly unaware of our own lack of skills. The results of that landmark research became known as He as Dunning Kruger effect.

Much of Dunning’s academic work has explored the psychology underlying human misbelief. In our Masters in Business conversation, we discuss those issues of skill and self-evaluation — and how the second depends upon the first. Self-evaluation is very much dependent on the underlying skills.

Dunning notes that we all have our own pockets of ignorance, and we can wander into them at any time. A cautionary example he uses is that of new pilots. New pilots with 100 hours of training are not as dangerous as those pilots with 700-800 flight hours. More hours than rookies but much less than experts, this mid group is in what aviation professionals refer to as “the killing zone.” They know enough to think “I got this,” when they really don’t. The results are often catastrophic.

Dunning’s research also focuses on Social Norms, and its impact on peoples’ thoughts and behaviors. He also studies Hypocognition, the state of not having a concept about your own blind spot. For their great insights, the Dunning & Kruger were awarded an igNoble Award in 2,000.

His favorite books can be seen here; A transcript of our conversation will be available here.

You can stream and download our full conversation, including the podcast extras, on Apple iTunesSpotifyOvercastGoogleBloomberg, and Stitcher. All of our earlier podcasts on your favorite pod hosts can be found here.

Next week, we speak with Wall Street Journal’s NBA correspondent Ben Cohen. His new book is The Hot Hand: The Mystery and Science of Streaks was just released.



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