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People Aren’t Smart Enough for Democracy to Flourish, Scientists Say March 5, 2012

Posted by tkcollier in Lifestyle, Politics.
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The research, led by David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, shows that incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people’s ideas. For example, if people lack expertise on tax reform, it is very difficult for them to identify the candidates who are actual experts. They simply lack the mental tools needed to make meaningful judgments.

As a result, no amount of information or facts about political candidates can override the inherent inability of many voters to accurately evaluate them. On top of that, “very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognize how good an idea is,” Dunning told Life’s Little Mysteries.

He and colleague Justin Kruger, formerly of Cornell and now of New York University, have demonstrated again and again that people are self-delusional when it comes to their own intellectual skills. Whether the researchers are testing people’s ability to rate the funniness of jokes, the correctness of grammar, or even their own performance in a game of chess, the duo has found  that people always assess their own performance as “above average” — even people who, when tested, actually perform at the very bottom of the pile. [Incompetent People Too Ignorant to Know It]

We’re just as undiscerning about the skills of others as about ourselves. “To the extent that you are incompetent, you are a worse judge of incompetence in other people,” Dunning said. In one study, the researchers asked students to grade quizzes that tested for grammar skill. “We found that students who had done worse on the test itself gave more inaccurate grades to other students.” Essentially, they didn’t recognize the correct answer even when they saw it.

The reason for this disconnect is simple: “If you have gaps in your knowledge in a given area, then you’re not in a position to assess your own gaps or the gaps of others,” Dunning said. Strangely though, in these experiments, people tend to readily and accurately agree on who the worst performers are, while failing to recognize the best performers.

The most incompetent among us serve as canaries in the coal mine signifying a larger quandary in the concept of democracy; truly ignorant people may be the worst judges of candidates and ideas, Dunning said, but we all suffer from a degree of blindness stemming from our own personal lack of expertise.

Mato Nagel, a sociologist in Germany, recently implemented Dunning and Kruger’s theories by computer-simulating a democratic election. In his mathematical model of the election, he assumed that voters’ own leadership skills were distributed on a bell curve — some were really good leaders, some, really bad, but most were mediocre — and that each voter was incapable of recognizing the leadership skills of a political candidate as being better than his or her own. When such an election was simulated, candidates whose leadership skills were only slightly better than average always won.

Nagel concluded that democracies rarely or never elect the best leaders. Their advantage over dictatorships or other forms of government is merely that they “effectively prevent lower-than-average candidates from becoming leaders.”

This story was provided by Life’s Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience. Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover. Follow Life’s Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries, then join us on Facebook.

People Aren’t Smart Enough for Democracy to Flourish, Scientists Say –.

Comments»

1. william wallace - March 5, 2012

We have at present those whom support BARACK that he gets another term being a puppet president // dispite having broken
every promise made // dispite he being a complete fraudster…
in having signed away every americans basic rights in having a
lawyer defend them from injustice /their right in having a fair trial.

Any individual can now be arrested and put in prison // having no access to a lawyerr / having no trial / but in being left imprisoned.

The america that once represented at least a spark of democracy freedom // is no more // the lunatics having taken over the asylum.

2. Dave Bryan - March 6, 2012

The article states the obvious under the banner of a non sequitur headline.
1.) The gift of intelligence is unevenly distributed among any population, and
2.) Democracy provides a better platform for keeping undesirables out of power than other government formats.
3.) Given 1 & 2, people aren’t smart enough to handle a democracy.

It is, I think, a ridiculous argument and a false syllogism.

3. John Brittain - March 9, 2012

Knowing what so many of these unevenly distributed geniuses watch on TV scares the Fox out of me; now, more than ever.

4. tkcollier - March 26, 2012

Carlton Palmer recalls Churchill’s dictum that the strongest argument against democracy is a 5 minute conversation with the average voter.


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