January 11, 2020 by phicks2012
The Imposter Syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.
On the other hand, in the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability. Imagine that!
The last is vastly over-simplified as a definition, because in studies the top 25% of performers tended to underrate themselves and to overestimate how much others should and do know, while the bottom 50% tended to overrate themselves, and the bottom 25% tended to wildly overrate themselves. In short in studies dealing with “Cognitive Bias”, “The less we know the more we think we know, and the less well we take criticism”.
Well, we definitely see this today in politics (on both sides), as well as in the workplace and in personal life, don’t we?
Other investigations of the phenomenon, such as “Why People Fail to Recognize Their Own Incompetence” (2003), indicate that much incorrect self-assessment of competence derives from the person’s ignorance of a given activity’s standards of performance. Dunning and Kruger’s research also indicates that training in a task, such as solving a logic puzzle, increases people’s ability to accurately evaluate how good they are at it.
I know some very intelligent and effective people (several of them my proteges in the SCA) who do not believe themselves to be in any way special, and who (in fact) do tend to underrate their own skills and contributions. I suppose this either makes them “Imposters”, or means that they fall into the upper 25% — which I definitely can respect.
I also know several individuals (none of them my proteges, thank God) who frustrate the hell out of me because they expect recognition and approval for tasks at which they have absolutely and demonstrably failed to succeed. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that if tested they would fall into the lower 25%.
When dealing with those in the former category I try to register my appreciation and honest approval regularly, though they rarely ask for it and seem to think their efforts meager, and that the rewards they have earned are undeserved.
When dealing with the latter, I often find myself resisting the urge — when they complain, as they too often do, about being unappreciated — to suggest that if they actually completed a task skillfully and well (or maybe at ALL) they might conceivably inspire approval in others. D-K research indicates that such people lack the knowledge and expertise to KNOW that they lack the knowledge and expertise, but it remains infuriating to deal with what seems so clearly to be obvious and persistent ignorance.
Common sense would seem to dictate that if you take on a job knowing (or at least being told) in advance what the requirements are, but then flatly fail to fulfill a single one of those requirements, you should logically comprehend that you failed to do the job. Therefore, expecting praise or reward for achievement ought to be ridiculous to any reasoning human being. Shouldn’t it? Well, yes, except that according to Dunning & Kruger such people are incapable of rating themselves as having failed, and will always rate their performance as falling into the “above average” category even though it clearly is not.
So what should we do? I know how to praise where praise is deserved but unexpected and unsolicited, but how should we respond when the opposite is true? Do we 1)tell them honestly that we haven’t seen them do anything praiseworthy, do we 2)opt for tact and suggest that they might need a bit more time and effort, or do we 3)lie through our teeth and say we have no idea why no awards have been presented or recognition received?
As stated previously, studies seem to indicate that with training the ability to self-assess improves because knowledge of the standards and expectations improves, but I’ve found that some people simply don’t seem to want to expend the effort required to learn more, and may in fact become huffy if it’s suggested that they might benefit from additional training or knowledge.
So, for now I’m content that my proteges in the SCA tend to lean in the other direction, learning well and doing very special things while underrating their own skills and achievements — since I would far rather praise than slam. Furthermore, I plan to continue to refrain from belting proteges who will over-value their very meager contributions while poking out their lower lips and reacting to lack of accolades by doing even less.
Self-confidence is a worthy trait, but ignorant arrogance — forgive me — really is not.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
Professor Dunning himself also has a series of video lectures on this subject on YouTube, by the way. 😉