Zeno's Paradox
While critical thinking may not make up for a lack of knowledge, it is essential for gaining knowledge.
Thursday, February 06, 2003:  

Critical Thinking, Human Factors:

Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments (Justin Kruger and David Dunning - Journal of Personality and Social Psychology):
People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.
Specifically, people performing at the bottom quartile of the domains tested (humor, logical reasoning, and English grammar) thought they were better than average.

...we argue that the skills that engender competence in a particular domain are often the very same skills necessary to evaluate competence in that domain–one's own or anyone else's. Because of this, incompetent individuals lack what cognitive psychologists variously term metacognition, metamemory, metacomprehension, or self-monitoring skills. These terms refer to the ability to know how well one is performing, when one is likely to be accurate in judgment, and when one is likely to be in error.
In other words, it requires a certain level of skill in a domain for people to make reasonable assessments of performance in that domain.

...Because people usually choose what they think is the most reasonable and optimal option, the failure to recognize that one has performed poorly will instead leave one to assume that one has performed well. As a result, the incompetent will tend to grossly overestimate their skills and abilities.
Specifically, they think they are above average.

...One puzzling aspect of our results is how the incompetent fail, through life experience, to learn that they are unskilled. ... Although our analysis suggests that incompetent individuals are unable to spot their poor performances themselves, one would have thought negative feedback would have been inevitable at some point in their academic career. So why had they not learned?

One reason is that people seldom receive negative feedback about their skills and abilities from others in everyday life. Even young children are familiar with the notion that "if you do not have something nice to say, don't say anything at all." Second ... some tasks and settings preclude people from receiving self-correcting information that would reveal the suboptimal nature of their decisions. Third, even if people receive negative feedback, they still must come to an accurate understanding of why that failure has occurred. The problem with failure is that it is subject to more attributional ambiguity than success. For success to occur, many things must go right: The person must be skilled, apply effort, and perhaps be a bit lucky. For failure to occur, the lack of any one of these components is sufficient. Because of this, even if people receive feedback that points to a lack of skill, they may attribute it to some other factor.

Finally, Study 3 showed that incompetent individuals may be unable to take full advantage of one particular kind of feedback: social comparison. One of the ways people gain insight into their own competence is by watching the behavior of others. In a perfect world, everyone could see the judgments and decisions that other people reach, accurately assess how competent those decisions are, and then revise their view of their own competence by comparison. However, Study 3 showed that incompetent individuals are unable to take full advantage of such opportunities. Compared with their more expert peers, they were less able to spot competence when they saw it, and as a consequence, were less able to learn that their ability estimates were incorrect.
So, there are a number of social norms that may prevent people from proper self-assessment and low-skill people may have difficulties with what opportunities they have obtaining feedback.

...in order for the incompetent to overestimate themselves, they must satisfy a minimal threshold of knowledge, theory, or experience that suggests to themselves that they can generate correct answers. In some domains, there are clear and unavoidable reality constraints that prohibits this notion.
And, unfortunately, there are some domains where there are few reality constraints...

Humorous, yes (winner of the 2000 Ig Nobel Prize in psychology), but also insightful into behavior and decision-making.

Does training designed primarily to increase confidence only further inflate poor self-assessment?

How much of the preference vs performance paradox is explained by poor self-assessment as described in this paper?

    -  Ron  4:19 PM

Wednesday, February 05, 2003:  

Human Factors:

Usability News (Software Usability Research Laboratory - Wichita State University)
Eight research articles in this issue, including research on:
  • paging vs scrolling of online text documents

  • tolerance to website download delays

  • use of breadcrumb navigation

  • cascading menus on web sites

  • optimizing screen design for older adults

  • personality characteristics of online purchasers

Articles I especially liked:

The Impact of Paging vs. Scrolling on Reading Online Text Passages (J. Ryan Baker)
The findings from this study show that participants using the paging condition took significantly longer to read the passages than either the full or scrolling conditions. Participants also showed no significant differences in their ability to answer comprehension questions correctly, nor in their perceptions or satisfaction of the reading conditions.
Cascading versus Indexed Menu Design (Michael Bernard & Chris Hamblin)
significant search time differences between the three menu item layouts were detected that strongly favored the Index menu layout.
Can Expanding Targets Make Object Selection Easier for Older Adults? (Michael Bohan & Deborah Scarlett)
The results of this study, together with those of McGuffin and Balakrishan (2002), demonstrate that expanding targets are a promising interaction technique for improving target selection for older adults.
Examining Tolerance for Online Delays (Paula Selvidge)
  • Older adults were more tolerant of delays than younger adults in that they waited longer before leaving a site and switched sites less often.

  • Participants that frequently use high speed connection are less tolerant of delays than those used to a dial-up connection.

  • Internet experience level or task had no impact on delay tolerance.

    -  Ron  2:06 PM

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