Struggling With Dunning-Kruger Effect
“There is a strong linear relationship between confidence and being wrong”
One of the main things in this book that challenges my comfort zone in thinking is when Bobby Duffy also references the theory of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which identified that the illusory superiority bias—our tendency to think we’re better than others—has an interesting relationship with our cognitive abilities. Usually, I have felt comfortable in the belief that being a pastor and having a more extensive educational background than most people automatically makes me a better thinker than others. Especially in the Indonesian context, pastors are often placed in a higher position than others. Debating or challenging the opinion or thoughts of a pastor is still considered taboo by most Christians here. Therefore, when reading this book, I immediately questioned, whether what I have been thinking all along is true? Haven’t other people also been given the ability by God to develop their thoughts in such a way?
Duffy’s writing prompts me to engage in a process of dismantling my thinking patterns and mentality. This process involves breaking down my preconceived notions and biases, which is facilitated by Duffy’s exploration of our tendency to seek out information that reinforces our beliefs, our inclination towards negativity, our vulnerability to stereotyping, and our tendency to conform to the opinions of the majority. The initial information that we receive, particularly from sources that we consider important and authoritative, is often perceived as the sole truth. This belief has led me to think that when I pass on information that I believe to others it should not be rejected by anyone. Duffy reminds us of the tendency that we not only have a built-in bias towards focusing on the vivid and threatening, but we also tend towards thinking things were better in the past and therefore are worse now.
The impact of this tendency is that we always consider references to truth and goodness in the past as unshakable guides. This attitude leads someone to reject criticism and intellectual challenges from others, even though they are based on reality and actual facts. With great fervor, Duffy firmly believes that facts still hold significant value in shaping our perspectives and behaviors. The act of promoting delusions for personal gain or to conform to popular opinions is unacceptable. Recognizing the influence of our emotions and thought patterns is crucial in understanding our mistakes and aiding us in approaching reality and facts more accurately. The primary objective of Duffy’s perspective is to uphold a fact-based comprehension of our surroundings.
On the subject of a mental deconstruction, Duffy’s writing challenges me to question a phenomenon he refers to as the “availability heuristic”, a mental shortcut whereby we reach for information that’s readily available, even if it doesn’t quite fit the situation or give us the full picture. I usually find comfort in a thinking system that assumes that all answers are available in the form of templates for any questions or problems I face. I have been inclined to use System 1 thinking, in Daniel Kahneman’s terms, as my way of thinking. However, Kahneman has demonstrated that there is a second thinking system, which aligns with Duffy’s reminder in his writing to avoid the “availability heuristic” tendency mentioned earlier. This resonates with what Kathryn Schulz conveys in her book “Being Wrong”. Schulz says another issue with avoiding the acknowledgment of our wrongness is that we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to fully experience it. Embracing our fallibility requires a certain level of emotional resilience, as being wrong is an inherently emotional experience, akin to falling in love or grieving. While these experiences can be painful, they are also an essential part of the human experience. As the saying goes, if you haven’t felt the intensity of these emotions, you haven’t truly lived.
Encountering various required textbooks for this class, including reading Bobby Duffy’s writing, has made me grateful. It has made me realize that my way of thinking has a great potential for error and building a castle of comfort in it. Duffy exposed all of that, even though my ego was reluctant to admit it at first. This experience helped me to truly think and analyze systematically before I give answers in Bible studies, before I deliver sermons, or before I engage in pastoral conversations, including what I am trying to build and construct in my NPO research.
I believe it’s time to examine and rid myself of the tendency of the Dunning-Kruger effect that perhaps is inside me. Therefore, my recent understanding about myself is that I am a fallible human being with the possibility of making mistakes or errs. To broaden my knowledge, I should strive to learn from others who possess the diverse abilities that God has bestowed upon them. As the Bible says: Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits (Romans 12:16).
 Bobby Duffy, “Why We’re Wrong about Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding” (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2019), 170.
 Bobby Duffy, “Why We’re Wrong about Nearly Everything, 14.
 Duffy, 103.
 Duffy, 21.
 Duffy, 25.
 System 1 functions swiftly and unconsciously, requiring minimal effort and lacking any perception of deliberate control. On the other hand, System 2 directs attention towards mentally demanding tasks that necessitate conscious effort, such as intricate computations. System 2’s activities typically correlate with the personal feeling of agency, choice, and focused attention. System 1 is impulsive and intuitive; System 2 is capable of reasoning, and it is cautious, but at least for some people it is also lazy. See: Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (London: Penguin Books, 2012), 22, 47.
 Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (New York, Ecco, 2010), 200.
 King James Version.
8 responses to “Struggling With Dunning-Kruger Effect”
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Your question “Haven’t other people also been given the ability by God to develop their thoughts in such a way?” is so needed for all of us as ministers to remember. Though we are called to lead the people God has entrusted us with, it is so easy for pride to set in.
In our season of ministry, we are trying to hand off ministries as we see ourselves transitioning in the next 5 years. I have to constantly remind myself that those under our leadership are capable to soar even above us and we need to release them to do so.
Thank you for challenging all of us as leaders, to keep our own prideful thinking in check.
Thank you for your comment, Esther.
I have vivid memories of my mentor during my time as a candidate for pastor, who emphasized the importance of having a growth mindset and continuously striving to improve oneself. He encouraged me to surpass my mentors and become a better version of myself. His advice resonated with me deeply and inspired me to adopt the same mentality.
As a result, I make a conscious effort to not only focus on my own personal development but also to cultivate the same spirit in future generations of church servants. I strive to motivate and encourage them to become even better ministers than I am.
Therefore, I recognize the importance of letting go of any pride or insecurity toward my juniors. Instead, I approach their growth with gratitude and support, celebrating their accomplishments and abilities even when they surpass their seniors.
Mr, Dinka, thanks for your posting, it is always a good reminder to, “not to think of ourselves as highly” in comparison to others. And I believe that the first step in avoiding this is becoming aware of it and not in denial which is exactly what you are doing. I believe that you are a very humble and respectful person. God bless and thank you.
Thank you for your comment, Mr. Liemam.
During my time as a vicariate working towards becoming a pastor, I was fortunate to have a mentor who emphasized the importance of humility. He taught me that while becoming a scholar and a pastor has an endpoint, humility is a continuous and lifelong process.
I have taken this advice to heart and strive to cultivate a humble attitude in all aspects of my life. I believe that humility is a crucial component of being a good servant of God and is essential in building positive relationships with others.
Thank you again for your comments. I appreciate your kind words. I’m sure you are also a good and humble person. May God bless you always.
Hey Dinka! Great post – I have definitely been victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect in my own life at times. Earlier in this group there was a conversation about coach vs pastor which I thought was really interesting. Coaches are supposed to listen 85-90% of a time and pastor’s main job is to speak and tell us what to do (broadly speaking, of course).
I often think being a pastor is one of the hardest jobs for this reason. People come to pastors with all sorts of problems looking for advice and you’re supposed to know exactly what to do.
A good friend of mine has a good solution for this. Whenever a partitioner would ask him for this sort of advice he would always say, “Let’s see what the Bible has to say!”
Hi Mathieu! Thank you for your comment.
I agree with your point that being a pastor comes with the expectation of having the knowledge to address various issues that members of the congregation may have. While this is an honor, it can also be a temptation that challenges a pastor’s integrity and humility.
I wholeheartedly agree too with the advice given by your friend, who emphasized the importance of constantly looking to the Bible as a reminder that the wisdom and guidance provided come from God alone. This is a crucial reminder for pastors to remain humble and to recognize that they are merely vessels through which God’s wisdom is conveyed.
Thank you again for your comment. I appreciate your perspective on this topic. Blessings.
You write so well. I enjoy reading your blogs.
You wrote, “therefore, my recent understanding about myself is that I am a fallible human being with the possibility of making mistakes or errs. To broaden my knowledge, I should strive to learn from others who possess the diverse abilities that God has bestowed upon them. As the Bible says: Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits (Romans 12:16).
I love that. For all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. In other word we are fallen humans!
The whole cohort, blogpost endeavor has opened up a new cycle of thinking for me. There is initially, MY thinking, and then I open up my thinking to YOU ALL (forgive the Texas accent). The variety of points of views mentioned in the blogposts has expanded my way of thinking, and hopefully boosted me out of the mental rut that I usually find myself.
Hey Dinka, I always enjoy reading your posts. I have an easy question for you. What has your Indonesian culture/tradition taught you that is NOT biblical but yet very beneficial?