Why we are unaware of how unaware we are

Each one of us has a relationship with our own ignorance, a dishonest, complicated relationship, and that dishonesty keeps us sane, happy, and willing to get out of bed in the morning.


Part of that ignorance is a blind spot we each possess that obscures both our competence and incompetence.

In the case of singing, you might get all the way to an audition on X-Factor on national television before someone finally provides you with an accurate appraisal. David Dunning says that the shock that some people feel when Simon Cowell cruelly explains to them that they suck is often the result of living for years in an environment filled with mediocrity enablers. Friends and family, peers and coworkers, they don’t want to be mean or impolite. They encourage you to keep going until you end up in front of millions reeling from your first experience with honest feedback.

David DunningWhen you are unskilled yet unaware, you often experience what is now known in psychology as the Dunning-Kruger effect, a psychological phenomenon that arises sometimes in your life because you are generally very bad at self-assessment. If you have ever been confronted with the fact that you were in over your head, or that you had no idea what you were doing, or that you thought you were more skilled at something than you actually were – then you may have experienced this effect. It is very easy to be both unskilled and unaware of it, and in this episode we explore why that is with professor David Dunning, one of the researchers who coined the term and a scientist who continues to add to our understanding of the phenomenon.