Forming New Habits -- or Abilities?

Monday, May 22, 2017

An article at Aeon on "what know-it-alls don't know" illustrates the importance of mental integration, which Ayn Rand called, "a cardinal function of man's consciousness on all the levels of his cognitive development." Scientist Kate Fehlhaber -- focusing on the Dunning-Krueger effect, in which incompetents misjudge their abilities as higher than they actually are -- indicates that many sufferers are likely failing to perform this vital mental activity as much as they need. This becomes apparent when she contrasts that effect to Impostor Syndrome:

Interestingly, really smart people also fail to accurately self-assess their abilities. As much as D- and F-grade students overestimate their abilities, A-grade students underestimate theirs. In their classic study, Dunning and Kruger found that high-performing students, whose cognitive scores were in the top quartile, underestimated their relative competence. These students presumed that if these cognitive tasks were easy for them, then they must be just as easy or even easier for everyone else. This so-called 'imposter syndrome' can be likened to the inverse of the Dunning-Kruger effect, whereby high achievers fail to recognise their talents and think that others are equally competent. The difference is that competent people can and do adjust their self-assessment given appropriate feedback, while incompetent individuals cannot. [bold added]
In other words, victims of Impostor Syndrome know that they are doing something well and are also availing themselves of introspection when self-assessing, but may not know about (or know how to use) other sources of information about their abilities. Once they have that information, they incorporate it into their self-appraisals. Incompetents, already oblivious to their own bad results (which are a kind of feedback), don't.

But could they?

My first impulse, on reading the last bolded word above, was to express disagreement with the choice of the last word. But considering the method of non-integrative thinking our government schools bombard so many students with (exacerbated by doses of flattery), it may well frequently be that many can't use such feedback. At the very least, on top of psychological barriers to forming the habit of seeking out feedback (often shared by the competent), such people would face enormous difficulties knowing how to use such feedback, let alone develop the apparently missing skill of more generally checking what they take as knowledge against the facts of reality. Someone who could do this, but is not in the habit of doing so would still face the arguably "easier" task of making that practice into a habit.

-- CAV

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