Do you need a clue to get a clue?

This study of the link between ability and perception of ability is a few years old now, but having found a link to it in an LJ discussion of entitlement and success in the arts, I wanted to make a note of it.

The basic premise is that those who lack skill in a given area are prone to overestimate their ability, while those who have skill tend to underestimate it. Any writer has met the practical applications of this: when you’re starting out you think you’re pretty good even if you’re not (and you’re probably not); once you know what you’re doing, all the doubts kick in, even though what you’re writing now is much, much better–but you now have the skills to see where it’s lacking, too.

And then there are vanity books of the sort that are badly written, yet have authors who never do seem to even come close to realizing the fact.

But looking at the actual data, I notice that the results are not unambiguous as I’d thought. Those worst at the tested tasks do overestimate by the greatest degree, but they still estimate their skill a bit lower than those at the highest levels (the ones who underestimate it).

More: everyone seems to put themselves somewhere in the “slightly above average” range. So is the study really about the clueless not knowing how little they know?

Or is it about the fact that we all tend, whatever our skill levels, to think we’re better than average, but not a lot better than average?

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