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Dunning-Kruger effect

Oct 23, 2012

According to the almighty Wikipedia, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a “cognitive bias in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the meta cognitive ability to realize their mistakes”. I have been interested in this psychological effect for awhile and its implications are rather profound. The DK effect basically contributes to the ignorant and unskilled being confident in their abilities and the talented to be unsure of themselves.

I know from my experiences that the more I learn, the less I feel I know. Venturing into any topic really gives you an impression of how much is involved and how little you know about it. However, the effect can be useful in some circumstances, especially when attempting to learn something new. Would anyone honestly venture into some facets of computing if they knew from the start how long and winding the road to understanding was? In this way, the DK effect offers an unfounded confidence to take on difficult tasks and seek knowledge on elusive topics.

What does this have to do with hacking? Well for one, you get a lot of arrogant humans on sites like this. I’m not saying that I’m an expert, because there’s a ton of stuff I don’t know. But at least I realize this and attempt to further educate myself rather than keep myself under the impression that I’m so much more of a 1337xor (Elites) than everyone else. You also get people who falsely assume they know what they are doing, and because they are too ignorant to realize that they really don’t, said people are confident in their unreal abilities. As a whole, the less skill a hacker has, the more skill they perceive themselves having.

On the flip side, there are really talented hackers that realize how much there is that they don’t know and so have less confidence in how skilled they actually are. I don’t see this so much across the internet, but I’m sure it exists. Someone who might have a perfect answer to a question, or the solution for a thread, fails to post it due to their self-doubt. Maybe this isn’t so prevalent in the hacking community due to the superiority complex of the average hacker.

The implications of the DK effect are widespread. Given a task, people are downright bad at predicting its difficulty and how they will perform at it. Those ignorant in the task area will underestimate its difficulty and overestimate their performance of the task. Those experienced in the task area will overestimate its difficulty and underestimate their performance of it. script kiddies will view virus writing as relatively easy, while programmers realize how complex a ‘good’ virus is to write. When performing social engineering, picking someone with the least ability may yield the most fruitful results. In programming, the experience programmer may take longer to write code than the amateur. The experienced programmer will often scrutinize his code much longer before becoming satisfied. So much can depend on confidence.

And so I leave you with a quote, thanks for reading…

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”
- Charles Darwin

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