The Dunning-Kruger Effect

The thought arose top of mind out of nowhere as I was working on the rear suspension on my car, a job I’d done in one form or another several times before, so it was kind of rote. That’s probably what allowed my mind to wander.

As I was wrestling the rear axle stub back into the differential, I remembered going through all the same motions as I built my first car. I couldn’t wait to go racing. I’d been playing with cars since I could drive and I had been a car freak ever since I could remember, so I was convinced I was going to be a big deal. I didn’t realize the level of commitment it takes to be genuinely good at racing and, boy, does it take a lot.

Little did I know how little I knew. The phenomenon is called the Dunning-Krueger effect, and we had studied it in graduate school, so I was keenly aware of the theory. What’s odd is that even though I knew about it, I couldn’t even tell it was affecting me at the time. It was like a third-tier, meta application of the theory. I wasn’t even aware that I wasn’t aware of being unaware. Weird.

When the axle stub thumped into place, I attached the upright at the upper and lower control arms, and wondered what I was unaware of in that moment. Between the four Miatas I’ve owned and three more I’ve flipped for fun and profit, I have had nearly every square inch of a Miata apart several times over. The surprises are few.

What never ceases to surprise me, and what always produces the unforeseen, is what happens at the racetrack. There, surprises are manifold, as I have documented in this space ad nauseum over the last seven years.

Sometimes it’s for the good, such as, say, a car ahead of you dropping out and bumping you up one step on the podium, or meeting the best friends you never knew you had. It also could come in the comfort of the monthly ritual of heading to the track and meeting up with your racing “family.” Sometimes it goes the other way and you end up throwing away a car.

It stands to reason that racing, like anything else that can produce the highest highs, also can bring equivalent lows. Those are hard to get through, but if you know about them in advance — if you’re aware of your potential lack of awareness — it not only helps you get through them, but it also might help you avoid them in the first place.

It’s either that or I am once again not even aware that I’m unaware of being unaware. Either way it’s going to be interesting.


Join the Discussion