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Dunning-Kruger Effect

Are You Open-Minded?

Situational factors that affect one’s dogmatism.

Poussin jean/Wikipedia
Source: Poussin jean/Wikipedia

The term open-minded has multiple meanings. Colloquially, it is often used as a synonym for being socially liberal as in “I am an open-minded person so of course I support gay marriage.” It could also refer to a person’s dogmatism as in being open-minded (or not) to processing alternative viewpoints to those held by an individual. In a 2015 paper published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Victor Ottati, Erika D. Price, Chase Wilson, and Nathanael Sumaktoyo examined a situational predictor of how individuals might fare along the latter meaning of open-mindedness.

Prior to describe one of the key findings from the paper, it is worthwhile to situate the work within the broader situational-versus-dispositional debate as relating to personality traits. When one typically thinks of dogmatism (close-minded), they are likely to presume that this is a dispositional trait (i.e., an enduring and stable component of one's personality profile). The interesting twist to the Ottati et al. paper is that they demonstrate that the extent to which one is close-minded is in part determined by whether they are endowed (by the experimenters) with a sense of expertise. Take an individual and provide them with false positive or negative feedback about their performance on some task. Subsequently, administer to those same individuals a scale that captures how close-minded they are in terms of their cognitive processing styles (e.g., being willing to entertain political positions that are contrary to theirs). Those who are provided with positive feedback end up being more close-minded. Ottati et al. refer to this as the Earned Dogmatism Effect. To some readers this might appear as counterintuitive in that one might presume that an increased self-perception of expertise should engender greater epistemic humility (i.e., a more open-minded orientation toward all relevant information including that which is contrary to one’s position). Apparently not.

On a related note, one of the realities that I find most irksome in my public engagements is the endless manifestation of the Dunning-Kruger effect. (Incidentally, Professor David Dunning was my professor whilst I was a doctoral student at Cornell University.) The Dunning-Kruger effect is when an individual is supremely confident about his/her ignorance, incompetence, and/or idiocy. Hence, objectively speaking, such individuals are non-experts and yet they carry themselves as though they are leading world authorities on a given topic or task.

A small celebratory alert: This constitutes my 300th Psychology Today article on my Homo Consumericus blog! It was undoubtedly time to update my bio photo, which had not changed since I first started writing my column back in 2008. I hope you like the new headshot. Cheers.

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