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Political Psychology Lesson #1 - The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Updated: Dec 4, 2019

"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." - Alexander Pope

Hello everyone, I'm Zac Rhodenizer. I was the Alberta Party candidate for Lethbridge West in the 2019 Alberta provincial election. Today I'm sharing some tips from the field of psychology that can help us make sense of the election on the horizon (or any future one for that matter).

I'm going to start with the Dunning-Kruger effect which states that the more knowledge and expertise a person has in a given subject, especially one as complex and nuanced as politics, economics, or human behaviour, the less certain that person is in their assertions. This is because as you start to understand how complex the issues are you start to "know what you don't know" and it induces a sort of intellectual humility. You may have a better idea about what is likely to be the case but you avoid 'black and white' statements of absolute truth, because you know better.

In contrast, when you know a little bit in a given field, you tend to overestimate your competence level. Nobody knows more about teaching than the ed student who is fresh off his/her first practicum. Move aside "veterans" and let the 3-month expert handle it!

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge." - Charles Darwin

Then we listen to politicians. They're certain they have the answer!

"Just give me the ball," they demand.

They know exactly what needs to be done. I get it. Election campaigns are about presenting your vision and in order to have any sort of credibility you need to express confidence in your plan.

But what does the Dunning-Kruger effect tell us about people who are sooo certain?

Let me clear the field. I know enough to know that I don't know everything. But I'm confident in my ability to find the right sources, experts, research, and data to help make the best possible decisions. I'm confident that the Alberta Party has a diverse group of incredibly talented people who are willing to have meaningful and productive debates about the most serious problems facing our province.

When you're surrounded by people who can disagree and still work together collaboratively, you start to gain confidence in your ability to make the choice that is most likely the right one. You discover the holes in your knowledge and you find the people that can fill them.

We need a government comprised of people who are willing and able to identify their blindspots and find ways to remedy them. We need viewpoint diversity which allows for creative thinking and innovative solutions to our biggest problems. If instead we elect a majority of people who are tied to an ideology, or even worse, the mandates of their leader, then we have a group of powerful people who are almost guaranteed to make the mistakes that cognitive biases like the Dunning-Kruger effect cause.

I believe every bill should state its risks, limits, and potential consequences. Smaller parties and independents should be given back the funds that the NDP recently cut from them in order to do the necessary opposition research. Parties should allow free votes so that we can have human beings make decisions rather than automatons. All to increase diverse opinions and reduce bias.

"It's better to have a question not yet answered, than an answer that is not allowed to be questioned."

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