Dunning-Kruger

The unifying thread to the various topics I explore here is attitudes to risk. How ‘Leader’ and ‘Manager’ differ and complement each other in their focus, and the dynamic of ‘Embracing Failure’ as integral to any risk taking. And one of the areas I have looked at here is whether there are cultural variations to risk propensity and attitudes (Norway, USA, Israel, Japan). Researchers into the Dunning-Kruger Effect (the propensity for people to over-estimate their capability and hence under-estimate certain risks) have determined that it also appears vary by culture. The American Psychological Association’s piece “Why we over estimate our competence” on the work of Cornell University social psychologist and effect’s namesake David Dunning…

“First, Japanese and American participants performed a task at which they either succeeded or failed. Then they were timed as they worked on another version of the task. ‘The results made a symmetrical X,’ says Heine: Americans worked longer if they succeeded at the first task, while Japanese worked longer if they failed.”

“There are cultural, social and individual motives behind these tendencies, Heine and colleagues observe in a paper in the October 1999 Psychological Review (Vol. 106, No. 4). ‘As Western society becomes more individualistic, a successful life has come to be equated with having high self-esteem,’ Heine says. “Inflating one’s sense of self creates positive emotions and feelings of self-efficacy, but the downside is that people don’t really like self-enhancers very much.”

“Conversely, East Asians’ self-improving or self-critical stance helps them maintain their ‘face,’ or reputation, and as a result, their interpersonal network. But the cost is they don’t feel as good about themselves, he says. Because people in these cultures have different motivations, they make very different choices, Heine adds. If Americans perceive they’re not doing well at something, they’ll look for something else to do instead. ‘If you’re bad at volleyball, well fine, you won’t play volleyball,’ as Heine puts it. East Asians, though, view a poor performance as an invitation to try harder.”

“Interestingly, children in many cultures tend to overrate their abilities, perhaps because they lack objective feedback about their performance. For example, until about third grade, German youngsters generally overrate their academic achievement and class standing. This tendency declines as feedback in the form of letter grades begins. But researchers also have shown significant cross-cultural differences in youngsters’ performance estimates–American children, it appears, are particularly prone to overestimate their competence.”

Everyone talks about the 21st Century being the ‘Asian Century’ with the rise of China especially, not forgetting India, but also the Southeast Asian ‘Tigers’ that are also thriving. Maybe one contributor to their success will be their cultural attitude to ‘competence assessment’ which will make them more able to cope with the difficult down swing in the world economy.

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