Dunning-Kruger: A Little Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing

Have you heard of cognitive biases?

Everyone has them. If you think you don’t, then that’s called the Blind-Spot Bias.

In some ways we couldn’t function without them. Cognitive biases are kind of like shortcuts in the brain. We take in so much information throughout the day that we have to find a quick, somewhat efficient way to make sense of it all. Add to that the fact that we are highly social beings and we desire almost above everything else to be a part of an “in group.” So we will overlook and ignore some things in order to keep our own personal beliefs and actions in line with the group to which we want to belong.

I would argue that most cognitive biases are not inherently bad, so long as we recognize them and can become more aware of when we are relying on them too heavily. But if we are aren’t self-aware, if we just kind of live on autopilot and let our cognitive biases take too much control, then what starts out as a shortcut can quickly turn into a train wreck.

As a Christian and one who pays attention to the social fabric of our world, I am simply astounded by  the types of cognitive biases I see derailing our lives and conversations, especially online. Let’s try to take a faith-informed look at some of the more common biases so we can become more aware of how they affect our lives and what we can do about it.
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I’M NO EXPERT, BUT…


One of the more interesting cognitive biases is named the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It’s a psychological phenomenon where the less a person knows about a particular subject, the more confident they are in their perceived understanding. In other words, they know just enough about something to be dangerous with it. But if they actually put in the time and effort to thoroughly study a topic, their overall confidence decreases with more knowledge. At some point along the way, as they approach expert status, their confidence slowly climbs back up. The graph looks like this:

If you pay attention to all the different voices coming our way about this pandemic, you will see the Dunning-Kruger Effect in full swing. Those who know just a little bit are often the loudest, most confident, with the most certainty in their statements. But actual experts in the field speak with seemingly more uncertainty. They aren’t as apt to give straight-forward answers, and they readily admit that there are a lot of unknowns. Because here’s the thing about experts – ONLY EXPERTS KNOW WHAT THE UNKNOWNS ARE. And if they really are experts, they will admit where the knowledge base is unclear on any given topic.

Unfortunately, this preys on our bias towards ascribing credibility to those who sound confident in their arguments. Plenty of falsehoods are being spread from loud, confident-sounding novices, and that gets our attention.

As people of faith, we should always be somewhat skeptical of anyone claiming to have all the answers, especially if they are simply trying to out-shout the other voices. Jesus often got into arguments with the religious leaders of his day – men who knew just enough about the Scriptures to be dangerous. There is a level of humility that comes with true knowledge. If anyone thinks they have “arrived” and know all there is to know about a certain topic, then that’s when we must be on our guard.

One of the best examples of this is when Paul went through his conversion. He started off as a know-it-all Pharisee. Then the resurrected Jesus rocked his world and showed him how little he actually knew. This same Paul would go on to write, “I determined to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified.”

When it comes to the pandemic, health and safety, or even religion, I would rather listen to the humble expert than the overconfident novice.
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For a quick guide to more cognitive biases, I recommend this article from Business Insider: 61 Cognitive Biases that Screw Up Everything We Do

Ditching Social Media to Regain Our Sanity

Did you know that nearly 80% of adults in the US own a smartphone? That’s nuts! Just a few years ago it was around 30%. Smartphones are getting better every year. They have better cameras, longer battery lives, clearer screens, and smoother designs.

I recently got Apple’s new iPhone XR. It’s an amazing upgrade from my nearly-three-year-old SE. But I’ve noticed something. Since I’ve gotten a new phone, I’ve been spending more time on it. Thanks to Apple’s new Screen Time tracker, my screen time has nearly doubled! Yikes…

Have you seen the photographs of people with their smartphones edited out? Photographer Eric Pickersgill took photos of people in their everyday lives with their smartphones and then edited the devices out of the pictures. It’s humorous in a disturbing and uncomfortable way. You can check out his full gallery here: https://www.removed.social

Every new year people try to make goals for self-improvement and such. Most fail miserably. But I don’t think that means we should quit setting and attempting to achieve certain goals.

For 2019, I want to become better at using my iPhone.

Smartphones are an AMAZING tool. There is far more computing power in your pocket than it took to land a man on the moon. Unfortunately, for many of us our smartphones have gone from being tools to becoming masters. We find ourselves being used by our technology more than we actually use it. We consume more than we create. And this is worst through social media sites that are run by advertisers.

In his book The Next Story, author Tim Challies poses the question: Do you own your technology or does it own you?

In today’s digital world, we are not the consumer, we are the product. Your attention, your personal information, your ideas and opinions, are all being sold to the highest bidder. All that info is being plugged into an algorithm, the sole purpose of which is to keep your attention for longer.

You’re probably reading this on a smartphone or tablet right now through a link you saw on social media!!!

Ok, deep breath…

So for 2019, would you join me in becoming better at using our smartphones instead of being used by them? Studies show that we would all be happier, more productive, and higher functioning humans if we would just put down our phones, sign off of social media, and actually live our lives.

Tomorrow I’ll share the smartphone apps I have that I intend to use to help make my life better in 2019. Yes, it’s possible. Like I said, our smartphones are incredible tools! So let’s use them rather than being used by them.