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Ignorant of ignorance?
  1. Geraint Fuller
  1. Correspondence to Dr Geraint Fuller, Department of Neurology, Gloucester Royal Hospital, Gloucester, Gloucestershire GL1 3NN, UK; geraint.fuller{at}

Statistics from

‘Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognising one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments’. Not really neurology but still a great paper, summarised by its title, which has important implications in training neurologists and revalidation. In this paper Kruger and Dunning1 took a group of Cornell students and asked them to assess their ability on a series of tasks (ability to recognise a joke, a grammatical task and logical reasoning) which they then tested. All estimated their own ability at about the 60th centile regardless of their actual ability.

Some of these students were then given the task of grading papers to allow them to see how other students had done. After they had marked the papers they were asked to reassess their own ability. Those who had high level of ability recognised this and revised their estimation of their ability upwards. However, those with low ability continued to believe they were just above average–despite having had the opportunity to see how well the other students were doing. Those who were unskilled were unaware of it.

Other studies have found this phenomenon occurs in doctors.2 This should make us very wary of relying on self-assessment in training or for revalidation.

It seems likely the results apply to those in other walks of life and certainly helps make sense of talent show contestants and politicians.

The study's findings were anticipated: ‘The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool’ (As You Like It; act V, scene 1).


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