Using Simulators to Defeat the Dreaded ” Dunning-Kruger Effect”


Since it was first identified in 1999, the Dunning-Kruger effect has transformed how we talk about people who have no idea what they’re talking about.

The “Dunning-Kruger effect” is an exceedingly common—and previously unnamed—psychological blindspot: The human tendency to vastly overestimate our abilities because we know very little about a field.  (The title of the landmark paper identifying Dunning-Kruger effect puts it quite nicely: “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.”)

We’ve all seen it in action:

The “expert shooter” who misses every target more than eight feet away

The “excellent driver” who drifts in their lane and never signals

The “political junkie” who can’t name any world leader outside their own country

Unfortunately, some teaching and training methods actually tend to increase the likelihood that individuals will develop —or even expand —their cognitive blind spots.

Passive/less-active training methods (those that rely on lecture, PowerPoint, video, and rote cone-course driving) are a breeding ground for the Dunning-Krueger effect. Once someone has heard an explanation of the right way to do something and seen it done on a video, they have the feeling they know what they’re talking about. Then, when they go out into a real vehicle and rehearse that maneuver in a highly controlled environment (like a closed cone course), they’ve “proven” to themselves that they know what they’re doing. In other words, they have not yet been challenged enough to realize how bad they still are.

How to Use Your Sim to Combat Dunning-Kruger

Training simulators with full-capture after-action review and debriefing tools are an excellent antidote to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Todd Cheever is the Director of Safety and Training NICE Bus on Long Island (Nassau Inter-County Express) —a large agency, with at least 600 operators across hundreds of large vehicles. Cheever has found that, especially with more experienced drivers, “Many people, when they get into a habit, and they literally don’t understand when they’ve broken a law or violated policy. They literally cannot see that they’re doing it. It’s a non-conscious process.“

He recommends using your training simulator as an observation tool —one that lets trainees observe themselves during critical moments. In order to achieve this, Cheever puts drivers in the simulator and fires up a very generic scenario —one that’s not intended to ferret out any specific bad behavior or pose any special challenge. As they drive, he can flag points in the scenario where the operator exhibits poor judgment or performance. This is recorded on his trainer terminal —but isn’t signaled to the trainee. Their drive continues, uninterrupted.

Because his training sims are outfitted with full-capture after-action review tools (standard with all FAAC sims), Cheever can then sit down with that driver at a separate monitor, and they can debrief together, paying special attention to the problem areas he flagged during their drive.

According to Cheever, he almost always hears a surprised “‘ That was me?!’ But, of course, they know it’s them: They can see themselves on the screen, picture-in-picture, driving the bus. That’s very-very eye-opening and beneficial. Because now, they’ll sit back, and see themselves make these mistakes and go, ‘Wow: I didn’t even realize I ran that stop sign.’”

After-action Review for Right-sized Self-Assessments

Giving people a “third-person” view of their performance is a very effective way to deflate those “inflated self-assessments.” Once trainees right-size their sense of their driving abilities, impressive improvements come quickly and naturally Talk to one of our simulation specialists now to explore how your group can benefit from a sim with comprehensive after-action review capabilities.