Monday, October 6, 2008

dimmer than I think

Well, I was just basking in the general approval of yesterday's comments and thinking that being me pretty much rocks the thunderdome when I came across last month's Salon article about how most voters don't, can't, change their minds about their favourite political candidates. That article in itself is worth a look. Not only does it relate to the comments in one of last week's posts--that we all read a different book--but it's stuffed with very skiffy scenarios to replace future televised presidential debates. (It'll never happy but, hey, we can dream.) Tie that to the notion of using the latest imaging techniques by pollsters and spin-meisters to track mirror neuron activity and the whole thing becomes a serious techno-battle.

Anyway, the Salon article led me to a 1999 paper, "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments," from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Here's the abstract:

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. Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.

Basically, we all think we're more special than average. And the dimmer we are, the more special we think we are. Yesterday I must have been feeling very dim indeed...

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