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Why are we so confident on the Internet ?

© Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash

The information age, where every opinion can be shared with one click, actually turns out to also be that of disinformation. How many times have you come across virulent exchanges on any social network or in a comments section, where several people loudly assert their opinion on a subject x, as complex as it is ? Climate change, renewable energies, electric cars or geopolitics.

Where does this profusion of self-proclaimed experts come from on the web, whom we never come across in real life?? This assurance, very often disconnected from our real abilities, has its roots in a well-documented psychological phenomenon: the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The distorting mirror of our skills

Imagine this scene: you lose a game of chess to an eight-year-old child quietly sipping his milk chocolate. This is exactly what American author Tom Vanderbilt experienced, author of the best-selling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do let's do (and what it says about us). This failure allowed him to objectively evaluate his levelcompared to others, as tournaments and leaderboards allow. Faced with a defeat, we have concrete feedback.

It’is precisely the absence of this feedback ;#8217;live information which tends to trap many Internet users, and which then leads them to lose any objective feeling of their own skills. This cognitive bias was highlighted by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger in the 1990s: the least competent individuals in a field are often those who most overestimate their abilities.

As a duo, they conducted research leading to the theory of the Dunning-Kruger effect. In the 1990s, Dunning observed students who found themselves surprised by very poor results on their exams. Before this test, they were very confident and had botched their revisions. On the big day, they arrived in front of their copies, boosted by unjustified confidence.

The two psychologists published a study in 1999 in the journal Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. During this research, they measured the skills and self-assessment of participants in various areas (logic, grammar, humor). The results were very clear: the least successful individuals had greatly overestimated their abilities compared to the others.

The Dunning-Kruger effect s’is therefore perfectly rooted in the twists and turns of the Internet, a particularly fertile ground where we can very rarely objectively measure our skills by confronting them with reality. “ People who are not strong in a particular area tend to ignore their shortcomings ,” says Dunning.

Information is abundant on the Web, but it is very often browsed in a superficial way, which tends to further exacerbate this phenomenon. By unconsciously making our shortcomings invisible, we sometimes foster a confidence without any real basis in the assertions or judgments we can make online.

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The antidote to overestimation: question yourself

At first sight , one might mistakenly think that the students Dunning observed were simply dunces. However, the psychologist qualifies this reality, because ignorance is a key component of the human condition. It affects us all at some point, without exception. He explains: “ It’s coming to us sooner than we think ” and that “ We sometimes enter our little pool of stupidity without realizing it ”.

A solution exists to limit this phenomenon: solicit the opinions of others. « Our mistakes are invisible to us, but not necessarily to others. Confronting your ideas is always beneficial » Dunning explains. This may seem silly, but this state of mind is even more important when we have to make central decisions. When we are faced with a crucial choice (for example, a real estate purchase), we can seek the advice of an expert.

Dunning nevertheless tempers this advice by indicating: “ It should not be abused either, at the risk of being paralyzed by indecision ”. Indeed, there is a happy medium to find. « But when faced with a new situation, it is essential to ask yourself: “What’I don't know ?” » he recalls. Indeed, this simple question may be the most optimal starting point before diving headlong into a virtual discussion on the web during which we will expound with aplomb. A confidence, which very often is completely biased. Long before Dunning, a certain Socrates had already written this maxim, which we should all keep in mind: “ The first knowledge is the knowledge of my ignorance& ;nbsp;: this is the beginning of intelligence ”. If only he knew how much more relevant his adage would have become in our times than in his own!

  • We are often led to overestimate our skills even though we have not mastered certain subjects.
  • This cognitive bias has been theorized under the name of the Dunning effect- Kruger.
  • To avoid this overestimation as much as possible, questioning oneself and referring to others are interesting solutions to exploit.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116