Gentle Bamboo Solutions

The Dunning-Kruger-Confirmation-Bias Effect & Imposter Syndrome


I want to talk about cognitive biases today. I present to you a new effect (of sorts) that I’ve come up with which is a combination of two existing biases. Here’s what the two biases are separately about –

Confirmation Bias says: The more you look for for evidence of what you already believe in, the more confident you become of that thing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect says: The more you learn about something, the less confident you feel about the thing.

I believe there is another effect which is combination of them both. For lack of a better term, I’m simply calling it The Dunning-Kruger-Confirmation-Bias Effect, and I posit that it leads to Imposter Syndrome. It seems a little far-fetched, I know. Hear me out on this.

Imagine you start doing something for the first time and you start enjoying it. You start looking out for that more and more. Initially, you stumble upon information that is simplistic and surface-level, and is easily available on youtube and similar platforms. You start seeing your newly formed opinions being discussed everywhere – giving you confidence that you are now "in the know". The problem is that they’re not a variety of ideas. One or two people talked about an idea once, and then the same ideas are being rehashed by all the people. You don’t realise this, and you start thinking you "know" quite a lot. You’ve only been hearing one (or two) experts’ opinions for so long, but believe quite the opposite. That’s your Confirmation Bias acting up.

After a while, you feel you know everything that you need to know. You are now prey to the early stages of The Dunning-Kruger Effect. You’re supremely confident going in. And then you hear "other" experts in the area. You’re blown away by the variety and the depth of the ideas you hear. Now, you respond in one of these two ways: You either get scared and leave, OR You dive deeper into this world. If you dive deeper, you start realising how shallow your knowledge is. The more you learn, the more you learn that there is more to learn. Your confidence starts decreasing, even though your knowledge has actually increased. That’s the later stages of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Finally, you revisit your ideas you’d shared in the past before the current exposure. You remember how confident you felt then. And you realise that those ideas could well have been seen by the new experts you’re now hanging out with. You’re scared of the judgement that may come from them when they realise your pretensions. You feel you don’t belong here. How dare you even imagined you were one of them? They’ll see right through you. Imposter Syndrome kicks in.

That’s the nature of any advanced learning. If you’re aware of the steps, and accept that everyone goes through them, you can keep the Imposter Syndrome at bay. You can’t run away from it, but you can embrace it and move on.

Cautiously confident,