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Vanessa's BrainCraft video on the power of self-awareness:

How people assess their abilities doesn't often line up well with how they objectively perform. However, there does seem to be a good reason for this, as well as a way that people can get better.

Hosted by: Hank Green & Vanessa Hill
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[♪ INTRO].

Odds are, you think you know yourself pretty well. So if I asked you a bunch of questions, like if you're generous, or how good a driver you are compared to other people, you would probably have some confident answers for me.

Except… I have some bad news. According to research, your answers to many of these questions likely are not all that accurate. Scientists have compared how people assess their abilities to how they objectively perform, and the two often do not line up.

But if nothing else, there does seem to be a reason for this, and a way people can get better. Much of the research in this field centers around something called the Dunning-Kruger effect. It's usually described as a type of cognitive bias where unskilled people believe they are more competent, more capable, and smarter than they really are.

So in part, unskilled people are more likely to over-estimate their skill level, underestimate the skill level of those around them, and be unable to recognize expertise. But it's not just those with the least skill who misjudge themselves. The highest performers also inaccurately rate their skillset, just in different ways.

While they are generally good at self-assessment, like, they can pretty accurately tell you how many questions they got right on a quiz, they tend to think that they're less skilled relative to others. Though there is some nuance to this. In a 2014 meta-synthesis, for example, researchers found that people's self-evaluations were more likely to match others' evaluations in more specific, objective, or familiar domains.

For example, like, "the ability to shoot free throws". Those evaluations tended to diverge when it came to more vague areas, like "general athleticism". Still, overall, those results leave a lot of room for improvement.

One reason understanding yourself can be so difficult depends on your actual level of skill. As I mentioned earlier, part of the Dunning-Kruger effect describes the way highly skilled people underestimate their abilities and unskilled people overestimate them. But those misjudgments don't happen for the same reason.

Dunning and Kruger's research shows that highly-skilled people have a hard time comparing themselves to others because they assume that since they know the information, everyone else must know it, too. Unskilled people, on the other hand, often don't have the tools to judge their own skills, so they think their ability is higher than it is because they don't know what the real skill entails. Like, I know nothing about flying an airplane, so I might look at a cockpit and think it's just like driving a car.

And since I know how to drive, I totally know how to fly a plane. Which I do not! I don't know how to fly a plane!

At least I know that. Now, it might seem like the solution to this is just good old-fashioned feedback. But weirdly, that isn't always true.

High performers are more likely to adjust their expectations of other people's skill based on feedback. But under-performers can be told how bad they are at something and still be overly optimistic about how well they're gonna do the next time, as well as how they compared to others. Though, researchers have found a few ways to fix this tendency.

For people who aren't very good at something, one way to improve self-assessment is to get better at metacognitive skills, that is, thinking about thinking. In Dunning and Kruger's 1999 paper that launched the name for this effect, they tested the logic skills of 140 participants and asked them to rate how well they thought they did. Then, the researchers gave half of them a logic training session.

Finally, they asked all of the participants to rate how well they'd done on the original test, one more time. Before the training, those who scored in the lowest percentiles overestimated their abilities more than anyone else in their experiment, as usual. But after the training, they were as good at judging their own abilities as the highest performers were.

Essentially, the researchers suggested that they'd gotten better at thinking about their own thought processes. And that helped them more accurately evaluate their own performance. More broadly, other research has suggested that the way you think about intelligence may affect the accuracy of your self-assessments, at least for some things.

In a 2007 study, Joyce Ehrlinger, one of Dunning and Kruger's colleagues, gave participants various word problems and also asked them about their views on intelligence. Erhlinger found that those who considered intelligence a fixed skill, rather than one that could be improved, were generally overconfident in self-assessments of their performance. Research suggests that this happened because that group was more motivated to succeed, so they tended to better remember the parts of the test that went well.

And that makes sense. If you think your intelligence is an inherent, fixed thing, it could be hard to wrestle with the implications of a low score. Meanwhile, if you think you can learn to be more intelligent, you might not be afraid to focus on the easy and difficult parts of the test, so your self-assessment might not be as biased.

So in that sense, not being afraid to fail and make mistakes could help you have a more accurate view of your skills. Alternatively, there are some exercises you could try, including one we are exploring with Vanessa from BrainCraft, which is a channel on YouTube if you don't know, it's amazing. Please follow me over to her channel so you can see how to increase your self-awareness and then you can subscribe if you like it.

Thanks Hank! So this tool that Hank mentioned is called the Johari window and it's a really helpful way to figure out what you believe about yourself versus how others see you. So over on my channel BrainCraft, I'm gonna to try this out with Hank, so please follow us over, and I'll see you there! [♪ OUTRO].