Monday, April 18, 2005

Unskilled, Unaware, and Positively Reinforced

Greg Koukl asks a good question this morning: Are You Smart?

A smart person is smart enough to know he's smart. A dumb person often is too dumb to know he's dumb, so he thinks he's smart. So both of them think they're smart, but only one is really smart and the other is dumb.

So here's my question: Do you think your smart? If you do, are you really smart, or are you too dumb to know you're dumb?

Koukl’s point is that internal psychological confidence is insufficient; outside evidence is also required. That's why we don't just speak of "faith," but also of "convictions."

Koukl’s observation about self-assessment of intelligence has been confirmed by numerous studies. 70% of Americans consider themselves “above average” in intelligence.

For one of these studies, see: Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1999). Here is the abstract:

People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.

If you ask me, one of the culprits for this has to be what some are now calling TMPR—Too Much Positive Reinforcement.

TMPR parents pump up their child's self-esteem into an enormous vacuum. The kid feels great, but she has done nothing in particular to feel great about. . . . “The self-esteem movement gained a lot of momentum just in the last decade, where it was a big deal in schools and in the workplace to praise people for their efforts,” Murphy said. “There were all these happy-face signs and ‘good jobs’ and they would get trophies for everything. This is what a lot of experts are saying has gotten berserk.” Meanwhile, our popular culture looks like a TMPR triage area.