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Thursday, August 18, 2022

Dunning–Kruger effects in reasoning: Theoretical implications of the failure to recognize incompetence

Pennycook, G., Ross, R.M., Koehler, D.J. et al. 
Psychon Bull Rev 24, 1774–1784 (2017). 


The Dunning–Kruger effect refers to the observation that the incompetent are often ill-suited to recognize their incompetence. Here we investigated potential Dunning–Kruger effects in high-level reasoning and, in particular, focused on the relative effectiveness of metacognitive monitoring among particularly biased reasoners. Participants who made the greatest numbers of errors on the cognitive reflection test (CRT) overestimated their performance on this test by a factor of more than 3. Overestimation decreased as CRT performance increased, and those who scored particularly high underestimated their performance. Evidence for this type of systematic miscalibration was also found on a self-report measure of analytic-thinking disposition. Namely, genuinely nonanalytic participants (on the basis of CRT performance) overreported their “need for cognition” (NC), indicating that they were dispositionally analytic when their objective performance indicated otherwise. Furthermore, estimated CRT performance was just as strong a predictor of NC as was actual CRT performance. Our results provide evidence for Dunning–Kruger effects both in estimated performance on the CRT and in self-reported analytic-thinking disposition. These findings indicate that part of the reason why people are biased is that they are either unaware of or indifferent to their own bias.

General discussion

Our results provide empirical support for Dunning–Kruger effects in both estimates of reasoning performance and self-reported thinking disposition. Particularly intuitive individuals greatly overestimated their performance on the CRT—a tendency that diminished and eventually reversed among increasingly analytic individuals. Moreover, self-reported analytic-thinking disposition—as measured by the Ability and Engagement subscales of the NC scale—was just as strongly (if not more strongly) correlated with estimated CRT performance than with actual CRT performance. In addition, an analysis using an additional performance-based measure of analytic thinking—the heuristics-and-biases battery—revealed a systematic miscalibration of self-reported NC, wherein relatively intuitive individuals report that they are more analytic than is justified by their objective performance. Together, these findings indicate that participants who are low in analytic thinking (so-called “intuitive thinkers”) are at least somewhat unaware of (or unresponsive to) their propensity to rely on intuition in lieu of analytic thought during decision making. This conclusion is consistent with previous research that has suggested that the propensity to think analytically facilitates metacognitive monitoring during reasoning (Pennycook et al., 2015b; Thompson & Johnson, 2014). Those who are genuinely analytic are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their reasoning, whereas those who are genuinely nonanalytic are perhaps best described as “happy fools” (De Neys et al., 2013).