1954: Impostor Syndrome
Title text: It's actually worst in people who study the Dunning–Kruger effect. We tried to organize a conference on it, but the only people who would agree to give the keynote were random undergrads.
Impostor syndrome is a common psychological phenomenon where successful individuals are unable to internalize their success and fear being exposed as a "fraud" or "impostor." Events and accomplishments that would seem to be evidence of competence, skill, intelligence, and so forth, are instead viewed (by the person) as luck, timing, and the ability to appear more confident/competent than they actually are.
Ponytail, representing Dr. Adams, is introduced by Megan as "the world's top expert on impostor syndrome." Dr. Adams then demonstrates that she herself (like a relatively large number of women according to some reports ) is afflicted by this syndrome. She realizes this after she reacts to the flattering introduction by starting about "other scholars" whom she deems to be superior to her.
The Dunning–Kruger effect, mentioned in the title text, is a cognitive bias wherein people who possess comparatively little direct expertise in a given field may unrealistically inflate their estimation of their own level of expertise in that field; while those who actually are highly competent (and especially experts on the topic at hand) are likely to downplay their level of expertise. This cognitive bias arises when people of low relevant ability lack the practical knowledge to validly assess their competence: The criteria for good or poor performance in a given field may not be weighed accurately by someone lacking direct expertise and formal training in that specific field. For instance, a commuter experienced in filtering through traffic quickly may consider themselves to be excellent at driving, while a professional evaluating driving habits may observe adherence to regulations and best practices for safety to be the primary criteria for being a "good" driver.
Conversely, people with extensive knowledge of a given field may develop an acute awareness of the necessarily limited scope of their (or any one person's) expertise. While this effect primarily refers to cognitive ability, it is also sometimes used to refer to people who are competent in one area (and thus not lacking metacognitive skills) believing that their abilities grant them unusually-high aptitude in a different but seemingly related area.
In practice, more expertise still largely correlates to higher confidence in one's expertise (that is to say that competence remains positively correlated with an individual's perception of their own competence), but a lack of the appropriate cognitive skills can result in that perception of competence starting at a high level yet increasing at a slower rate. However, in popular usage, the Dunning–Kruger effect is used to claim that a negative correlation exists, and that non-experts will claim expertise and confidence at a higher overall level than actual experts.
In the title text, a conference for the Dunning–Kruger effect was having trouble, presumably because the actual researchers were downplaying their knowledge and expertise to the point where they refused to be the keynote speaker, while the random undergrads (who lack experience in the topic) felt sufficiently confident in their knowledge of it to give the keynote. This more closely matches both the secondary usage (as undergrads are unlikely to lack metacognitive skills, but may inflate their understanding) and the popular usage (as the confidence is inverse to the actual competence) than the primary and in-practice observance made in the original research.
- [Megan points at Ponytail and introduces her to Cueball.]
- Megan: This is Dr. Adams. She's a social psychologist and the world's top expert on impostor syndrome.
- Dr. Adams: Haha, don't be silly! There are lots of scholars who have made more significant…
- Dr. Adams: …Oh my God.
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