Friday, February 21, 2003

Competence and self-confidence

Here's a prophetic article from back in 2000 that I just discovered:
Confident You Are Competent? Think Again New York Times Syndicate DIANE WHITE January 20, 2000 For me, this week's most fascinating story was deep inside Tuesday's New York Times, a piece by Erica Goode headlined, ``Among the Inept, Researchers Discover Ignorance Is Bliss.'' It seems that studies by psychologists have found that most incompetent people have no idea they're incompetent. On the contrary, the researchers found that the incompetent are ``usually supremely confident of their abilities, more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.'' ... The two psychologists think that inept people are often self-assured because they lack self-monitoring skills, which are the same skills required for competence. Subjects who scored in the lowest quartile in tests of logic, English grammar, and humor were also the mostly likely to ``grossly overestimate'' how well they performed. ``Not only do (incompetent people) reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices,'' wrote Dr. Kruger, ``but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.'' The inept, then, are in an impossible position. Is there any hope for them? Or don't they care? Dunning and Kruger found that a short course in logical reasoning helped some of the subjects assess their performance more realistically. But it appears a lot more work must be done. Stamping out incompetence, especially among people who won't admit they're incompetent, could be a Herculean task. One of the obstacles to encouraging realistic self-assessment is that, in most situations, honest feedback is nonexistent. As Goode puts it, ``Social norms prevent most people from blurting out, `You stink!''
This goes a long way toward explaining several things: 1) Bush's sense of his own competence despite all evidence to the contrary. He doesn't have the ability to understand that he isn't very good at what he does. 2) The hesitancy to point out to him just how incompetent he is, especially in the press. People who are insecure about their own competence will have an especially hard time questioning the competence of someone who is self-assured. 3) Why so many people like him despite his incompetence. Because self-confidence is a very attractive quality for many people, especially people who lack confidence in their own abilities. The insecure look to the secure to provide them security. Thus the competent may actually be more trusting of the incompetent because the incompetent are less likely to publicly question their own competence. (It's also why assholes never seem to have problems getting women.)

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