The Unskilled Are Aware

Back in ’08 I wrote:

The blogsphere adores Kruger and Dunning’s ‘99 paper “Unskilled and Unaware of It“. … This paper describes everyone’s favorite theory of those they disagree with, that they are hopelessly confused idiots unable to see they are idiots; no point in listening to or reasoning with such fools.  However, many psychologists have noted Kruger and Dunning’s main data is better explained by positing simply that we all have noisy estimates of our ability and of task difficulty.

Here is yet another needed correction:

Relative to high-performing students, the poorer students showed a greater overconfidence effect (i.e., their predictions were greater than their performance), but they also reported lower confidence in these predictions. Together, these results suggest that poor students are indeed unskilled but that they may have some awareness of their lack of metacognitive knowledge. (more)

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  • Carl Shulman

    You didn’t link to your old post.

  • nazgulnarsil
  • nazgulnarsil

    whoops, the specific tie in comes from a comment further down.

    dirk on the status of unskilled work:

    “Below a certain threshold of earnings for many males, working isn’t worth the effort. Men in America don’t work in order to feed themselves (there are enough soup kitchens to feed you), they work in order not to be losers. But past a certain age a low wage job will make a man feel as much of a loser as living on the street. Women in the workforce as well as increasing income inequality among men are contributing factors, as most men are merely trying to earn the respect of women through working. If the only job they can get doesn’t cut it, fuck it.”

    • Sister Y

      Bryan Caplan thinks that the solution to this is to not have soup kitchens. That is, to make everybody so miserable that they HAVE to work, or else.

      • richard silliker

        Limiting choice set for the poor? Teaching them what they want to learn feels like a good place to start. IMHO.

      • Considering how most soup kitchens are private charities, I don’t see this happening unless we outlaw charity.

      • Many jurisdictions have done this (or close to it) by applying restaurant health codes to soup kitchens, and even to Thanksgiving and Christmas meals cooked in peoples’ homes and donated to shelters.

  • JGWeissman

    So, underpeformers on the object level will tend to also underperform on the first meta level of evaluating their object level performance, but if you specifically ask them access their meta level skill, they have more success on this second meta level. So to get them to actually do better on the first meta level, get them to systematically consider the second meta level and to remember that “when you are uncertain, you widen your confidence interval, in both directions.” (I’m pretty sure I have heard Eliezer say something like that quote (talking about predicting the timing of the Singularity), maybe in a Blogging Heads video?)

    • Robert Koslover

      Oh my. I’m guessing that most people who would eagerly “systematically consider the second meta level” and will also ‘remember that “when you are uncertain, you widen your confidence interval, in both directions,”’ would be rarely found among “underperformers,” at least not as the term is used in this article. Call me crazy, but that’s my hunch. 🙂

      • JGWeissman

        The question is not if they are eager to do it, but if they can be trained to do it.

      • My take on JG Weissman- Basically you’re trying to prevent accidents with heavy machinery and reduce necessary expenditure on quality control. A noble agenda worth exploration.

  • j r

    Yeah, this is one of the reason’s why I tend to disregard almost all political opinion polls other than the very simple “who do you plan to vote for?” variety. The left loves to trot out these polls where a significant percentage of people claim to believe that Obama is a secret Kenyan Muslim socialist as proof that all conservatives are insane.

    I’m sure there are some people who really do believe these things, but there’s a good chance that when most people are asked that kind of question, their response is something like, “I have no reasonable basis to know what is in Obama’s past, but I don’t like him so much and answering yes to this question gives me an opportunity to signal that i don’t like him.”

    The other thing to remember is that when someone is good at something or has a lot of knowledge about a topic, then performing a task or answering questions is a way to signal your superior ability, so you take it somewhat seriously. If you’re to do something that you’re not good at or answer a bunch of questions about stuff you don’t care about, you’re only going to take it so seriously.

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  • snarles

    The unskilled are aware of their unawareness? That’s deep.

    • Reminds me of the aesthetic awareness of that Nolan movie “a dream within a dream within a dream”. 3 deep is aesthetically deep for us -blows our mind.

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