Monday, 2 May 2011

Greenday, undergraduate studies and the Dunning-Kruger effect

What links the three things mentioned above? A pop-punk-rock band, trying to fill you brain with new ideas for the first time and a theory of cognitive bias? For me they all came together recently when thinking about my upcoming exams.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is the name given to the phenomenon where by people who have very little skill, talent or ability think they're actually quite good at something, while those with skill,talent or ability often think of themselves as less competent than they actually are. The bottom end of this scale is why, year after year we see utterly talentless x-factor hopefuls genuinely surprised at their failure. The idea behind this, is that the incompetent lack the knowledge and understanding to recognise how bad they are while those in the know recognise just how much they don't know!

There's a Greenday song called knowledge, the chorus of which repeats the lyrics 'all I know is that I don't know nothing' with a jaunty pop-punk feel. I like it, it often pops into my mind when I'm studying, because I know for sure that I don't know nothing, I know something, of course I do, I go to class, take notes and I'm sitting studying. the question is do I know enough? This is the point where Dunning-Kruger raises its ugly head, because the more I learn the more I realise how truly massive the subject is and accordingly just how much I don't know. The fear kicks in, I work harder and the cycle continues. I think the nature of under-graduate study is such that because you're constantly being introduced to subjects for the first time and having to fill your head with them, fully aware of the fact that there are others who've devoted their whole life to these areas and you're only scratching the surface it's very easy to feel overwhelmed by it all.

But it's all good, it works for me, on more than one occasion I've walked in to exams, worried that I didn't know enough, or hadn't developed a full enough understanding of the subject, only to be pleasantly surprised when results time came.

I suppose the moral of the story is don't let the fear creep in too much, get the work done and you'll get through, it's worked for me so far . . . .