“Ur so dumb, grow some intelligance!!1!” On the Dunning-Kruger effect and how you can’t unsee something once you’re aware of it.{1}

Part of my job as a research assistant entailed testing intelligence in control subjects. Controls were ‘mentally healthy’ (I use the term veeeery loosely) people who were paid $40 to participate in the study. To establish how patients suffering schizophrenia differ from other people, one will necessarily need control-subjects. The controls were not told explicitly that I was testing intelligence; we had a battery of tests, and the WASI (just one of many IQ-measuring tools) was part of a range of cognitive and functional tests we used in the study.

Anyway, within a fairly short time it became evident that one particular sub-segment of the controls differed from others. There were some commonalities: they were most frequently men. They were often slightly older than me, had little formal education, and were at times combative (yet creepily flirtatious). They took forever to test because they were trying to figure out “The Real Reason” behind whatever they were asked to do (dude, there’s no hidden meaning, all I am asking you to do is connect some random dots!). And, they all insisted that I might be “book-smart” but that they themselves were “street-smart”. An IQ of 100 is the norm and these guys never ever scored above 85 on the IQ-test.. I do not claim to be neither book-nor-street smart, but it was just so..blunt.

Nevertheless, this led me to discover the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning-Kruger effect is, briefly explained, what leads those who are not too bright/smart to overestimate their own intelligence. That is, frequently, the more incompetent among us will believe that they are much smarter than the objective evidence suggests. They will also consider themselves smarter than those around them, and they will be likely to point this out to others.

Unsurprisingly, the internet is a endless resource of Dunning-Kruger examples. Much like with Godwin’s law where any argument (online) that goes on for long enough will inevitably result in somebody, somewhere being compared to Hitler, Dunning-Kruger usually comes about in the form of insults towards the fellow debater’s intelligence. The hilarious thing though, is that the person accusing the fellow debater of being dumb, will 9 times out of 10 misspell the word “intelligence”. And it never fails to crack me up. I have also seen real life examples of this phenomenon; where someone claims that their solution is “Intellegent” or “Intellegant” (see pics below; SERIOUSLY; YOU COULDN’T CHECK THE SPELLING PRIOR TO PUTTING ON ALL YOUR COMPANY CARS?).

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Start paying attention to this phenomenon and I promise that you’ll start seeing it everywhere!

(Note: I don’t much care for the notion of “intelligence” as measured through IQ-tests, they are meaningless in the big picture. Dunning-Kruger is nevertheless pretty cool).