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Unfortunately, Ignorance Feels Blissful: The Dunning-Kruger Effect

question photoIn my last post, I wrote about a student who couldn’t tell whether or not he “knew” the material for a history exam.

At least my student was knowledgeable enough to have doubts about his knowledge. Ironically, the truly clueless often don’t wonder; they tend to be quite secure that they’ve got it knocked!

Psychologists call this the Dunning-Kruger Effect, in which ignorant people often have great confidence in their “knowledge,” whereas better-informed people tend to doubt themselves. 

This counter-intuitive effect does make some sense: When a person knows little about a subject, the subject seems simple! Then, as the person learns more, she begins to glimpse the depth and complexity and becomes less sure of her expertise.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is the stuff of both comedy and tragedy in adult decision-making. Next time you click on the news to see a politician ranting in simplistic terms about some highly nuanced issue he clearly knows nothing about, or you observe an outsider blithely stepping into a complex situation to “solve” it, you are seeing the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action.

Dunning-Kruger helps explain those sweeping generalizations adolescents often make. When a student declared that “People who live in tsunami-prone areas should just move somewhere else,” I realized she simply didn’t know very much about this issue, and so we talked about it and did some research together to give her a more faceted understanding.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is part of the reason why students are so bad at telling whether or not they’re ready for tests, or if their writing is good enough to hand in.

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Unfortunately, Ignorance Feels Blissful: The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS is an educator, counselor, writer and speaker. She's been a tutor, test prep coach and home school teacher for over thirty years. Click HERE to visit Leigh's website and to subscribe to her newsletter, "Learning Something New."

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APA Reference
Cousins, L. (2016). Unfortunately, Ignorance Feels Blissful: The Dunning-Kruger Effect. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Apr 2016
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