Dunning Kruger Syndrome – See Examples

dunning kruger syndrome

Dunning Kruger Syndrome or the Dunning Kruger effect is characterized by the inability of some people to be aware of their incompetence or ineptitude. It is a cognitive distortion whereby a person who actually has little ability to perform an activity, thinks he has a lot, even more than some experts.

On the contrary, people who are competent have a tendency to underestimate their skills and abilities. There is then a contradiction; While those who know more believe that they are less competent, those who know less believe that they are very competent.

Torrente, a film character who, although not very competent, thinks he is very competent

One of the painful things of our time is that those who feel certain are stupid, and those with some imagination and understanding are full of doubt and indecision. -Bertrand Russell.

What is Dunning Kruger Syndrome?

This Dunning Kruger effect is due to the inability that some people have to recognize their own ineptitude. It is a cognitive bias whereby people who have little ability, knowledge, or less intelligence, are considered superior in ability, knowledge, or intelligence than others.

On the contrary, really competent, intelligent, and skilled people tend to underestimate their abilities. That is, they believe that the tasks and skills that are simple for them are also for other people.

As their researchers, David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University say: 

“The poor measurement of the incompetent is due to an error about himself, while the poor measurement of the competency is due to an error about others.”

Other behaviors predicted by these researchers are:

  • Incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own ability.
  • Incompetent individuals are unable to recognize the ability of others.
  • Incompetent individuals are unable to recognize their extreme insufficiency.
  • If they can be trained to substantially improve their own skill level, these individuals can recognize and accept their lack of prior skills.

Real examples

This effect can be seen in some famous statements in the media. For example, there is a soccer player named Mario Balotelli who said he was the best in the world, better than Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, although, in reality, he was not even in the top 100, probably even in the top 500.

It can also be seen in actor statements:

«If I were simply intelligent, it would be fine. But I am fiercely intelligent, which people find very threatening ».- Sharon Stone.

«People around the world recognize me as a great spiritual leader» .- Steven Seagal.

The opposite effect – perceiving in itself little competition – is observed in one of the great geniuses of history. Albert Einstein said:

“It’s not that I’m very smart, it’s that I’m with the problems longer.”

And even in comedies. Is there a greater exponent than Torrente? For those who do not know, it is a totally incompetent detective who believes he is fit and is one of the best in his profession.

Very little knowledge can be dangerous

The Dunning Kruger Syndrome or effect seems to be pronounced more the less knowledge or ability of something. The more you study or, the more knowledge a person has, the more aware he is of everything he has left to know. Hence the ” I only know that I know nothing ” of Socrates.

On the other hand, people who know very little or have little ability are not aware of everything they do not know, and hence it can be dangerous.

Clear exponent are the politicians. How can they make such mistakes in public and do things so badly? Why do they handle public money so badly?

In most countries, there have been cases of politicians who speak in important events, who say that someone is not poor because they have Twitter or that words are invented in Valencian.

In Latin America, there are also numerous cases of politicians from any country.


Actually, the Dunning Kruger Syndrome or effect applies to everyone, not just fools. It is a human cognitive bias that applies to everyone.

That is, when we have little competition in something, we all tend to believe that we have more than the real one. What is certain is that some people continue to improve their skill level, while others stop or act in complicated, compromised, or critical situations when they should have continued to improve …


The solution is critical thinking, using a logical thinking process and, above all, humility. In addition to critical thinking, self-assessment is a skill we should all develop. 

And as Socrates said:

“The only true wisdom is knowing that you don’t know anything.”

Guided by that principle, you will never stop learning.

You can also be guided by one of the principles proposed by the book  Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind; Always have a beginner mentality, to be more attentive to the world and always willing to learn.

And do you think you fall for this effect? Do you know cases of people who screw up because they think they know too much? I’m interested in your opinion. Thank you!

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