Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7, KJV)
On the Dunning-Kruger Effect
The Dunning-Kruger Effect refers to contrasting biases people hold about their own intelligence and ability.
The first bias is when “people incorrectly assess their cognitive abilities as greater than they actually are;” the second bias is the opposite, refering to people who are “more skilled than the average individual [yet] sometimes fail to realize how much better they are.” (source linked above)
The D-K Effect has also been described as, in the first case, people who believe their internal bias about themselves above all else and in the second case, as people who primarily believe others’ bias about them.
In both cases, errors in bias can negatively effect both decision making and behavior by leading to either overconfidence in one’s intelligence and ability or to underconfidence.
The problems stemming from those who hold an unvetted high opinion of themselves are not only a lack self-awareness but also a lack of even comprehending their incompetence. They may be convinced of their intellectual or even moral superiority despite objective assessments, while in their minds a kind of circular argument plays: “I’m right because I’m right.”
Those who hold a low opinion of themselves are self aware, but their awareness skews to confusion and doubt because of their tendency to internalize others’ opinions.
The biases are prompted by both nature, or innate characteristics, and nurture, or learned characteristics.
Innate factors influencing bias might include mental or personality disorders, developmental or hereditary issues. Learned factors are observed, studied, and mirrored. The criminal mind is another subject altogether, a different topic.
The effects of the biases, particulary what happens to people who believe they are superior to others (call them Group A), is that although the truth about their ability may be the opposite of what they believe, they persist in their false bias. This gives insight as to why it can be frustrating to reason with them, let alone try to present evidence, at least suggestions, that might help them reassess their belief and/or behavior.
The effect on people who are more capable but who put the weight of the analysis on others or externals (Group B) is that, due to doubt, they may hold back on an idea or action. They are also more easily influenced–especially by people in Group A.
Think of what happens in the arena of politics, for example, or religious cults, or life with abusive people–or just in association with people usually called “know-it-all’s” in any context. It’s not pleasant. In some cases, dealing with them can be downright destructive.
You might say The Dunning-Kruger Effect is just one more reason it can be hard to get on, let alone get along, here on this darkling plain.
Some people even lose hope, especially in abusive situations.
But there is always hope.
Especially where it concerns another “effect” prompted by another “cause” alogether: Jesus Christ.
On the Jesus Christ Effect
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)
It’s nice, isn’t it, when someone finally says what most of us have been feeling all along! Gut feelings are often guides, but studies and analyses are even better. As a result of the research and analysis done by Dunning and Kruger, we now have a little more insight into certain complex aspects of human behavior.
Of course, as believers, we would add more reasons to those described by the psychologists as to why people exhibit a superior, seemingly unteachable attitude, or conversely, a defeatist one.
To the D-K summary of behavior anomalies, believers would add human nature, sin nature, hardness of heart, and free will gone bad. In more extreme cases, such as illustrated in the accounts of Jesus’ ministry while on earth, there might be demonic oppression or possession involved.
And, of course, one “nurture” component–actually the opposite of nurture–might be others’ imposing their will on us, physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and/or spiritually, in the many ways and situations this occurs.
Neverthless, there is hope for both groups as well as for those who live with, love, and pray for them.
As implied in the opening verse to this section, it is in the hope we can have as “new creatures” in Christ.
The meaning of becoming new creatures in Christ is integral to the “new life” that comes when we receive Christ into our hearts–our core–when we are born again.
Many people, however, have never heard of this concept outside of religious systems that equate “conversion” with a scheduled event soon after birth involving some kind of external rite attended by family (reception following) versus being born again by faith through grace when asking Jesus Christ “into” our lives/hearts at which time the Holy Spirit is imparted to us. For a good discussion of this spiritual transformation, see here.
Or, as Jesus put it in response to Nicodemus’ question on being “born again,” with added context from Gospel writer John:
“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ . . . Do you not understand these things? . . . For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:6–7, 10, 16).
So How Does Jesus’ Effect Best Dunning and Kruger’s?
Just as in natural birth that comes with a body, a mind, and a soul–i.e., “the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life” (Mirriam-Webster Online dictionary)–spiritual birth comes with something, too, rather Some One, as in the Holy Spirit.
As to His role in our regeneration and transformation–even transforming us from fearful (or fear-mongering), powerless (or power-mad), unloved (or unloving), and/or mentally skewed (or unaware) conditions as implied in the opening verse and corroborated to a certain extent by the work of Dunning and Kruger–consider:
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
“Unveiled” as in “open,” in other words, uncovered or no longer “veiled” to the meaning of God’s Word and His ways.
But How Does This Work?
After our re-birth and having now the Holy Spirit within as Helper and Guide, it opens with a prayer perhaps similar to the following, from Psalm 51, verse 10 (which is my go-to):
Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
The transformation often takes time in further prayer for understanding, studying the Word and the ways of God embedded there, and obedience to what it says as mandated by a loving and, thankfully, forgiving God, our gratitude stemming from the fact that, let’s face it, we’ll still behave badly, it’s our nature, and, anyway, we’re all somewhere on the spectrum of faulty mental bias from womb to tomb, as they say.
Transformation is also aided by fellowshipping with others of like mind and spirit–or the transformation can be sudden, perhaps what is gleaned in the roar of events, or some “still, small voice” of revelation in a dark night or in a crowd…
God sometimes offers insight through people like Dunning and Kruger but He always leads, guides, and directs us through His sovereign ways, even, sometimes, through trials and tribulations the world thinks impossible to overcome or move beyond.
I like to describe how God works with us as His “customized plans” for each and all.
After all, knowing all things, He also understands what each individual deals with–what disheartens, distorts, even what might destroy–no matter the causes or the effects.
With all due respect for the work of D and K, the Jesus Christ Effect covers much more ground, and for eternity.
Even better, it also offers hope to, and for, “outliers,” “one offs,” and others who don’t seem to fit any norm or abnorm, so to speak, but who still long for a new and better life.
The path to this kind of transformation, this cache of wisdom and guidance for when nature and nurture skews each of us in whatever way they may, begins here:
(S)eek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)