Friday, June 22, 2007

Shrinking George W. Bush: Meta-stupidity

I have said numerous times that the problem with George W. Bush is not so much stupidity (he's not brilliant, but he's smart enough), but rather a profound lack of curiosity combined with arrogance and stubbornness. Kevin Drum links to a research paper about the phenomenon of metacognitive incompetence: it turns out that people who are really bad at something (oh, say, American foreign policy), are often completely unaware that they are bad at it. Indeed, the very traits that make them bad at something also make them unable to see how bad they are. I'm reading the whole paper, but here's the abstract for you:
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.


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