When Ignorance Begets Confidence



“There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense.”  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I begin with this quote to convey the feelings evoked in a recent exchange with a neighbor, one in which surprise (and some horror) was felt during the course of the conversation.  Logic and ‘reasonableness’ had little place in the interchange. I had just been reading a short article that looked at particular German words that gave expression to complex emotional states. An excerpt is as follows: 

“Fremdschämen describes embarrassment which is experienced in response to someone else’s actions, but it is markedly different from simply being embarrassed for someone else….Fremdscham (the noun) describes the almost-horror you feel when you notice that somebody is oblivious to how embarrassing they truly are.” Further…”Fremdscham-inducing events…usually cause one to ask this question: “how on earth can these people be unaware of how stupid they are being right now?”.

I invite you to read this short article on the cognitive bias created in the Dunning Kruger effect – an effect that causes one to be unaware of their performance – and their incompetence.




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2 responses to “When Ignorance Begets Confidence

  1. I read the article.

    I wonder how this effect came about? Is it from the almost constant conditioning of rewarding self-esteem (in the US) rather than self-efficacy that has so dominated Western Culture (this has been on the way to change, however, as with the advancing of technology, skill, thus self-efficacy and competence are necessary in many of today’s careers)? Is it the educational system? Is it the fear of parents of critiquing their children, afraid of creating an awkward child? This is a curious concept.

  2. Niko,
    I don’t know…really. My interchange with the neighbor was one that just made me angry (after my disbelief subsided), but as I kept calm, I stood there listening to his ‘reasoning’ – in his not being aware of how stupid his words were.
    …I have thought that it has to do with the educational system AND the parenting…A few things about this area of Texas I now live in (temporarily, I hope)…Texas legislature recently voted to get rid of ‘critical thinking’ (higher order thinking) in the school curriculum – 1st reason being that it makes kids question their parent’s authority…(later apologies from some of the legislators) Shall we start talking about ‘intellectual wasteland? Then I read a news piece a few weeks later – a group in Houston is teaching women and others in high crime neighborhoods to use shotguns – AND giving shotguns to these people so that they can ‘protect’ themselves. Then, I find that there is a bill in legislature to take funding away from Planned Parenthood in Texas. Apparently no one in the elected officials group have looked at all the men and women that keep having more and more kids here, without sufficient means to support any of the children. I’ve met very few here that appear to know what ‘self-efficacy’ is…They want their self esteem bolstered, their disability checks signed, and their free medical care. (all the while complaining about this president that we have).
    And I sit here blogging about cognitive bias…who am I kidding? Are we to label this situation with psychological terminology, analyze the effects – or just call it what it is…? (I suppose my cynicism is emerging today….and like you, I too, think it a curious concept. My apologies today for moving beyond or outside my usual professional attitude. I realize that I’m collapsing several issues and concepts here – bringing in the political as well as the psychological…yet I am sometimes exhausted by the lack of any attempt to think or evaluate critically, independently….choosing instead to move through the world without a clue – without showing any knowledge of what effect their words or actions may have on other people. Perhaps I remain too naïve, too optimistic (?) that people can, and will change.

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