Monday, November 10, 2008

Inept people don't know it

The findings below are reasonable but the explanations offered seem unduly complex. The highly general nature of IQ would seem a sufficient explanation. I think the findings show that substantial intelligence is required for accurate self-awareness

There are many incompetent people in the world. Dr. David A. Dunning is haunted by the fear he might be one of them. Dr. Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, worries about this because, according to his research, most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent. On the contrary. People who do things badly, Dr. Dunning has found in studies conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely confident of their abilities -- more confident, in fact, than people who do things well. ''I began to think that there were probably lots of things that I was bad at and I didn't know it,'' Dr. Dunning said.

One reason that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured, the researchers believe, is that the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence. The incompetent, therefore, suffer doubly, they suggested in a paper appearing in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. ''Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it,'' wrote Dr. Kruger, now an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, and Dr. Dunning.

This deficiency in ''self-monitoring skills,'' the researchers said, helps explain the tendency of the humor-impaired to persist in telling jokes that are not funny, of day traders to repeatedly jump into the market -- and repeatedly lose out -- and of the politically clueless to continue holding forth at dinner parties on the fine points of campaign strategy.

In a series of studies, Dr. Kruger and Dr. Dunning tested their theory of incompetence. They found that subjects who scored in the lowest quartile on tests of logic, English grammar and humor were also the most likely to ''grossly overestimate'' how well they had performed.

In all three tests, subjects' ratings of their ability were positively linked to their actual scores. But the lowest-ranked participants showed much greater distortions in their self-estimates. Asked to evaluate their performance on the test of logical reasoning, for example, subjects who scored only in the 12th percentile guessed that they had scored in the 62nd percentile, and deemed their overall skill at logical reasoning to be at the 68th percentile. Similarly, subjects who scored at the 10th percentile on the grammar test ranked themselves at the 67th percentile in the ability to ''identify grammatically correct standard English,'' and estimated their test scores to be at the 61st percentile.

Unlike their unskilled counterparts, the most able subjects in the study, Dr. Kruger and Dr. Dunning found, were likely to underestimate their own competence. The researchers attributed this to the fact that, in the absence of information about how others were doing, highly competent subjects assumed that others were performing as well as they were -- a phenomenon psychologists term the ''false consensus effect.'' When high scoring subjects were asked to ''grade'' the grammar tests of their peers, however, they quickly revised their evaluations of their own performance.

And the research meshes neatly with other work indicating that overconfidence is a common; studies have found, for example, that the vast majority of people rate themselves as ''above average'' on a wide array of abilities -- though such an abundance of talent would be impossible in statistical terms. And this overestimation, studies indicate, is more likely for tasks that are difficult than for those that are easy.

But Dr. Dunning said his current research and past studies indicated that there were many reasons why people would tend to overestimate their competency, and not be aware of it. In some cases, Dr. Dunning pointed out, an awareness of one's own inability is inevitable: ''In a golf game, when your ball is heading into the woods, you know you're incompetent,'' he said. But in other situations, feedback is absent, or at least more ambiguous; even a humorless joke, for example, is likely to be met with polite laughter.


Australian obesity inquiry told extreme health programs too risky

A rare burst of realism

Some dieting and exercise programs may do more harm than good, a parliamentary inquiry into obesity has been told. A submission by the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, co-written by Professor Fiona Stanley, warned that "toughening up" exercise and diet programs wasn't the answer to the obesity epidemic. The submission was presented to the inquiry on Friday.

"We fear that there is a risk, if exercise and diet strategies are taken to extremes, that they could cause harm to some people," the experts wrote. "Extreme diets may have unwanted side effects. ''While high levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol have been linked with heart disease, low levels have been linked with depression and attempted self-harm." [Both links are likely to be epidemiological nonsense but it is nice to have one cancelling the other out]

The institute's submission criticised other arguments presented to the Inquiry into Obesity in Australia. It said some recommended diet and exercise programs "had never been properly tested and (were) based on some measure of faith or belief". "Where evidence is weakest is regarding the question of what works to reduce obesity. Some trials of increased exercise and/or various diets show limited benefits, if any."

The submission questioned experts' calls for "toughening up" strategies that had not shown any impact on the rate of obesity. Increasing the "dose" of strategies - such as mandating exercise through schools or further reducing fat content in fast foods - could be futile if the strategies were flawed. "There may be some element missing, or some flaw in the strategies or the ideas underlining them, that prevent them being successful or lead them to be ineffective," it said.

The report recommended new policies should be trialled first. [What a revolutionary idea for the food Fascists!]

The House of Representatives Health Committee is holding national hearings and will make recommendations to the Government next year. Committee chair Steve Georganas said there had not been enough monitoring and tracking research in recent years, but there were successful programs that could be rolled out across the country. "No one advocates over-strict diets,'' he said. ''It's about a healthy lifestyle, not flogging people to death. ''There is evidence of many programs working. [What sort of evidence? Not double-blind, I'll warrant] ''But there's no easy solution. ''We need people to eat less and exercise more, but getting the whole society to change their habits is very difficult." [And improper]


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