‘Dunning-Kruger effect’ scholars win 2023 Grawemeyer Award in Psychology

December 7, 2022
Written By:
Tevah Platt, Institute for Social Research

Social psychologists David Dunning of the University of Michigan and Justin Kruger of New York University have been named co-winners of the 2023 Grawemeyer Award in Psychology for their work identifying a cognitive bias that causes people to overrate their own competence.

The Grawemeyer Awards, administered by the University of Louisville, are given for original and creative ideas that have substantial impact in the fields of psychology, music composition, world order, education and religion. The annual $100,000 prizes were established in 1984 by industrialist and philanthropist H. Charles Grawemeyer to help make the world a better place.

Dunning and Kruger are best known for describing the Dunning-Kruger effect, which helps explain the human tendency to greatly overestimate their own knowledge or competence. Across various domains, they found it is often people who are the least skilled who are the most overconfident because they lack the skill needed to judge their own skills accurately.

The Dunning-Kruger effect was first described in their 1999 study, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.” The paper was inspired by a news story about a bank robber who spread lemon juice over his face thinking it would make him invisible to security cameras.

Since then, their finding has been cited in more than 8,500 scholarly publications and mentioned regularly in popular media discussions of issues ranging from national politics to education policy.

“The research highlights the value of humility in our opinions and beliefs, particularly ones we hold about ourselves,” Dunning said. “So it is quite easy just to be humbled by this award.”

Louisville psychologist Nicholaus Noles, the psychology award director for the Grawemeyer Awards, said “the Dunning-Kruger effect has always been an important finding, but the idea is likely to have even more impact in the years ahead as information and misinformation become more available to us and our society struggles with when and how to trust experts in a variety of domains.”

Dunning is a professor of psychology and a faculty associate at the Research Center for Group Dynamics at U-M’s Institute for Social Research. Kruger is a senior research scholar at NYU’s Stern School of Business.

Recipients of Grawemeyer awards visit Louisville in the spring to accept their $100,000 prizes and give free talks about their ideas. Charles Grawemeyer established the award to underscore the impact that a single idea can have on the world.