Years ago I took an anatomy/physiology course in a local community college. To prep for one of the major tests we were to take I buddied up with another student for a couple of evening study sessions and was a little surprised at how little my partner seemed to know about our assignments. When the test day came I was more than a little anxious; I never think I’m adequately prepared for taking tests in spite of the fact that I usually do pretty well. Anyhow, after the test and before finding out the results, I asked my study partner how he thought he did, and he said (without hesitation) “Oh, I aced it!” I wasn’t nearly as confident, but it turned out I did well, and my partner didn’t (he barely passed, as I recall). At the time I thought he was blustering when he predicted his results, but I’ve discovered that may not the case.
In 1999, Justin Kruger and David Dunning published a study they did at Cornell University entitled “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.” What they describe (which has since become known, logically enough, as “the Dunning-Kruger effect”) I think helps explain a lot of what I see in our current President. As stated in their introductory paragraph, the Dunning-Kruger effect explains why people tend to “have overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains.” The authors state that “…people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.” In other words, they not only lack the skill itself, but since it takes a certain intellectual capacity to realize they aren’t got at that skill, they are literally too stupid to realize they suck at it!
So let’s take a look at Trump. He has said over and again how smart he is. He said “I went to an Ivy League school. I’m very highly educated. I know words, I have the best words.” And “no one is better than me at” (fill in the blank). Yet he is patently wrong about almost all of them. He’s really terrible at almost everything he claims to be good at. He can’t build a consensus, he can’t create a leadership team, he can’t move his agenda forward, and most often it’s because of stupid things he himself does!
I thought for a while that maybe he’s really smart and playing a role, but I am beginning to think that he’s a walking example of the Dunning-Kruger effect: he is simply too stupid to know how bad he is at things, and he has no one among his inner circle that is willing or able to tell him.
I wish I could take credit for this observation, but the great British actor and comic Stephen Frye provides voice-over on a really nice description of this phenomenon and how it’s playing out in the White House. It’s on You Tube and I highly recommend taking the 7 minutes to watch it. There are several other You Tube videos with nice explanations; one is here and another (an interview with one of the authors 0f the study) here.
That’s scary enough to me. Even scarier is how many people are willing to follow this idiot. “Let’s give him a chance. He’ll ‘Make America Great Again.’ I’m just sure of it.”
So far, he’s made a mess of nearly everything.