The Dunning-Kruger Effect

19th June 2021. Reading Time: 11 minutes General, Stuff paranormal investigators need to know. 1179 page views. 2 comments.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias where a person overestimates how much they think they know about a subject.

When I was very new to the paranormal field, I listened to every single word that people who had investigated long before me had to say.  I personally took the title of paranormal investigator seriously (maybe in hindsight a little too seriously) and for the first 12 months of me out there doing investigations, I refused to call myself a paranormal investigator because I didn't know much about the paranormal.  In my head, there were people that knew things I didn't and they had the knowledge and experience.  I was here wanting to learn about everything and at the time, I thought what better way to learn than from these people who really seem to know what they are doing!  

I had a conversation with a lady a few years ago now who felt she had been taken advantage of by some within the paranormal field.  She likened some paranormal groups as having a 'rock star' like status and she even mentioned feeling scared to talk to them because they were so 'high profile'.  When I thought about it with my own experiences, I understood where she was coming from.  When you are in the paranormal community or dive in, there are some who have large followings and a very strong social media presence. There are people that so many look up to and when you ask for recommendations, the same names always seem to come up as highly regarded.  When you are watching live streams or just following the work of someone, you tend to become a bit of a fan.  I actually remember when I attended my first paracon when I was new to the field.  I was too scared to introduce myself to anyone (even though I was friends with some of these people on Facebook), and I saw how people gravitated to them because they were just fun, good to be around people.   I am not talking about television celebrities, I am talking about the more well-known names in the local paranormal community.  In that moment at the pre paracon party, some of those people to me were like the 'rockstars'.  So when these people speak, of course you are going to listen intently.

I am the sort of person who asks a lot of questions.  If not out loud, at least I am thinking them!  It did take some time for me to gain the confidence to question some of these people.  I mean I was a fan of their work and I certainly didn't want my question to be taken as something negative or me being a troll.  One of the problems today is that social media has become quite a toxic place, and people get sick of the ridicule or negative comments.  Sometimes if you question someone, it is often taken as a personal attack (as they are used to receiving them) when in fact you are really just asking a question.  Some take it better than others.  I remember quite well being on an investigation I had paid to attend and the person leading the group starting talking about the Singapore theory.  "Fantastic", I thought to myself.  "I can really learn something from this!"  Except there was no explanation beyond that.  They put an object on the ground that would be a 'trigger' object and said we are going to use the Singapore theory to see if we can communicate with spirits.  Along came my questions.  I started asking things from 'But why is it called Singapore Theory', through to 'where did it come from and why/how does it work?'.  The investigator at the time (who I think thought I was being difficult)  kept dancing around the subject talking about how they have been a paranormal investigator for so many years, through to "this is just what paranormal investigators do!"  It was then I realised, they actually didn't know the answer.  There is really no harm in saying to someone 'I don't know!'.  Some people don't want to admit they don't know the answer, but more commonly, they tend to think they know more about something than they really do.  This is what the Dunning-Kruger Effect is really about.

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
— William Shakespeare

The Dunning - Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias where a person overestimates how much they think they know about a subject.  A cognitive bias is an error in the way that we think.  It means we are not necessarily thinking with a 'clear mind'.  Our experiences, our beliefs, and our intentions all influence the way we think, the way we make decisions, and the way we interpret our surroundings.  Just the fact that we believe (or don't believe) in the paranormal makes us bias.  

Named after psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a type of cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate their knowledge or ability, particularly in areas with which they have little to no experience.


At work, the Dunning-Kruger effect can make it difficult for people to recognize and correct their own poor performance.

That’s why employers conduct performance reviews, but not all employees are receptive to constructive criticism.

It’s tempting to reach for an excuse — the reviewer doesn’t like you, for instance — as opposed to recognizing and correcting failings you aren’t aware you had.

Supporters of opposing political parties often hold radically different views. A 2013 study asked political partisans to rate their knowledge of various social policies. The researchers found that people tended to express confidence in their own political expertise.

Their explanations of specific policies and these ideas later revealed how little they actually knew, which could be explained at least in part by the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Are you ever overly optimistic when planning your day? Many of us make plans to maximize productivity, and then find we can’t accomplish all we’ve set out to do.

This might be partially due to the Dunning-Kruger effect, in which we believe we’re better at certain tasks and can therefore accomplish them faster than we actually can.

I could give some specific examples, but I don't think I need to because we have all seen it and maybe even been guilty ourselves. 

I know I am not the first nor will I be the last to make a connection with the Dunning-Kruger Effect and paranormal investigators.  I recently had a discussion with a friend who mentioned to me years ago he paid for an online course from someone online he thought he could learn a lot from.  It was not far into the course that he realised it wasn't really what he thought it would be and that the person running the course didn't really know enough about the subjects being taught and it was more about building an online community.  There are some reputable sources and mentors out there, but unfortunately thanks to the Dunning-Kruger effect, there are also some poor ones so choose wisely if that is the road you decide to take.  Some people are just really good talkers.  I have met people within my field of IT and in the paranormal field that can make you think that they know everything there is to know.  They can talk themselves out of quicksand.  It isn't until the time comes to put words into actions that you realise they actually don't know anything about it all (but they think they do!).  I have watched people give lectures on topics that they actually knew nothing about.  Some people were writing down notes soaking up every word because they trusted this person knew what they were talking about.  When they were challenged or asked a question on some of the information they were presenting, they had a really good way of talking and not answering the question and moving the attention to something else so by the time they were finished, no one realised they didn't even answer the question.  I have once attended an event where a speaker thought of themselves as the headline speaker as they felt they had the most knowledge to share.  They got that timeslot because they had asked for a later slot because they couldn't make it in the morning.  Their talk was the shortest (meaning it went for 15 minutes in a 1 hour slot), gave no information apart from big-noting themselves and walked away saying how their talk was the most successful of the night because no one had any questions so they must have gotten everything they needed!  I remember feeling horrible for the organisers who then had to try and fill the remaining 45 minutes of space.  

We can't change other people, but we can maybe help ourselves by making sure we educate ourselves and even acknowledge that we are susceptible to this as well!  

Here are a few other tips to apply when you think the Dunning-Kruger effect is at play:

  • Take your time. People tend to feel more confident when they make decisions quickly. If you want to avoid the Dunning-Kruger effect, stop and take the time to investigate snap decisions.
  • Challenge your own claims. Do you have assumptions you tend to take for granted? Don’t rely on your gut to tell you what’s right or wrong. Play devil’s advocate with yourself: Can you come up with a counter argument or rebuttal to your own ideas?
  • Change your reasoning. Do you apply the same logic to every question or problem you encounter? Trying new things can help you break out of patterns that will increase your confidence but decrease your metacognition.
  • Learn to take criticism. At work, take criticism seriously. Investigate claims that you don’t agree with by asking for evidence or examples of how you can improve.
  • Question longstanding views about yourself. Have you always considered yourself a great listener? Or good at math? The Dunning-Kruger effect suggests you should be critical when it comes to assessing what you’re good at.
  • Be open to learning new things. Curiosity and continuing to learn may be the best ways to approach a given task, topic, or concept and avoid biases like the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Everyone experiences it at some point or another. Curiosity, openness, and a lifelong commitment to learning can help you minimize the effects of Dunning-Kruger in your everyday life.

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., CRNP — Written by Carly Vandergriendt on May 15, 2020

It is why I always encourage people to ask questions, hit the books and even ask others for their thoughts.  It wasn't until I started doing my own research instead of listening to others telling me how I should be doing things how much I had it wrong.  Even things I myself spoke confidently about because I had a little bit of knowledge in that area, once I really started to looking into it properly, I realise I didn't know half as much as I thought I did.  Perhaps it is also something you can take with a touch of comfort as well.  The Dunning-Kruger Effect is always on glorious display in social media battles.  Now sometimes people are just looking for some trolling but there are occasions where people are genuinely asking questions or wanting more information.  Our gut is to just respond with what comes to mind, but we have to remember we all have the mental tendency to be affected by our own bias. 

Even with evidence in front of them, belief sometimes always wins.  It is just how our brain works and we tend to fight back on things that go against what we believe because we have this bias.  Check out my article: Are we willing to accept evidence?

Look at the below example.  I feel like I could change the heading to say 'What I know about the paranormal!' 

Image Source:

It is easy to get caught up and once you have been doing things for a while you tend to think you know all there is to know.  At some point, something else happens and then we start questioning everything.  So we start researching and we realise things are not what we thought at all.  We research more and more and even investigate.  We talk to others.  We end up in the It's complicated section!

We never stop learning so if you think you know all there is to know about a certain paranormal topic, go back and look into it.  There is definitely so much more you could learn! 


Pennycook, G., Ross, R.M., Koehler, D.J. et al. Dunning–Kruger effects in reasoning: Theoretical implications of the failure to recognize incompetence. Psychon Bull Rev 24, 1774–1784 (2017).

A new measure of psychological misconceptions: Relations with academic background, critical thinking, and acceptance of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims
AlanBensley Scott O.Lilienfeld Lauren A.Powell

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  • Natalie Vujovich 3 years ago

    I have experienced this in a training situation as well. I have attended training in my field (Health & Safety / Return to Work) hoping to learn some helpful tips but the presenter was more about advertising themselves as they worked as a contractor and letting everyone know how great they were in the field. I asked a couple of questions that didn't really get a substantial answer for and felt that a couple of points that they made were actually incorrect and if someone followed that information, it could be detrimental to the employee / employer relationship. Haven't gone to any other training held by that group.

  • Robin 3 years ago

    Until now, I had always said that the people affected by Dunning-Kruger Effect had simply "let their expectations exceed their ability", but now I know the official description. Thank you for an interesting article.