Have you ever considered why many less able people seem to be overly confident in their own abilities, even when the evidence is to the contrary? There are various theories out there to describe this phenomenon, but a pair of American psychologists, Dunning and Kruger, are at the forefront of thinking in this particular area. In this article we delve into their research and those of other eminent researchers to reveal some surprising results.
Firstly, not only did they discover that this was actually a real condition, but also that the least capable people were far more confident in their own abilities than genuine specialists. In what has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect (1999), those least able to make informed decisions are also most likely to believe that they can. Those experts on the other hand are more likely to underestimate their skills and are typically the least able when put to the test.
Dunning and Kruger attributed this bias to a metacognitive inability (a higher internal level of thinking) of those of low ability to recognise their ineptitude and evaluate their ability accurately. They have reasoned that the effect is the result of internal illusion in those of low ability, and external misperception in those of high ability. Put into their terminology: “The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.”
We all create our own “subjective social reality” from the perception of the input. An individual’s construction of social reality, not the objective input, dictates their behaviour in the social world. Thus, cognitive biases may sometimes lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality. In certain cases this can lead to a complex call illusory superiority (Van Yperen and Buunk,1991) whereby not only do individuals overestimate their own qualities and abilities, relative to others, but this can also manifest itself in a sense of relative superiority.
A serious danger in the workplace
The Dunning-Kruger effect is not deliberate – the effect is simply the extension of positive conformational bias. This means that decisions made by less skilled people can have serious consequences, simply because they do not properly understand that their knowledge and experience is incomplete. What they don’t know about what they don’t know is a major risk to themselves and anyone else nearby. This can have serious consequences in the context of site and project health and safety, where employees have a duty of care to ensure the highest standards are applied.
You can’t afford to assume you know
Most health and safety provisions are basic common sense – identifying and mitigating the most obvious dangers to keep people safe. However, what if the person responsible for hooking up loads to the site crane and directing the driver (Signaller & Slinger) was not completely knowledgeable about the correct health and safety procedures surrounding this critical role, yet was under the misapprehension that their skills surpassed the job in this area. Yes, you are quite correct in assuming that it could be a recipe for health and safety breaches to occur at some point.
Mosaic Management Systems has developed a training package to gauge not only the complete knowledge of those being tested on a particular subject area, but to also measure the level of confidence people apply to their decision making. This invaluable training tool will highlight knowledge deficiencies, enabling targeted remedial training to be scheduled leading to improved competency levels. Furthermore, any increase in competency levels will also reduce the risk of accidents leading to improvements in health and safety.
Mosaic Perception, the new product’s name, is a cutting edge on-line package that supports all manner of organisations to better empower their workforces, while managing and mitigating the risk that can be prevalent through misplaced confidence, lack of skills or simply bad practice. Our customisable on-line assessments, consultancy services and workforce risk solution, enable our clients to identify, manage and mitigate this risk.
This service is able to highlight skills and knowledge gaps and expose employee behaviour that may pose a risk to regulatory compliance, best practice, health and safety or even competitiveness. Through our work we identify the root causes so risks can be addressed immediately using targeted interventions.
At Mosaic, we understand that simply holding a record of employee qualifications, licences and training courses is insufficient in the current working environment. You certainly need peace of mind to know that your workforce can deliver in the way that is safe and productive. What we do is work closely with our clients as the subject matter experts to create role specific assessments that align with corporate goals and strategy.
Because we collaborate with our client’s candidates or employees, we are able to draw on their in-depth understanding of the role and it is with this insight that we are able to construct questions to identify information gaps which can be turned into actionable activity based on results.