People commonly hold unrealistically positive and optimistic views of their own abilities, dispositions, and moral character. In this proposal, I propose an integrated series of twelve laboratory experiments that examine a specific source of these unrealistic self-impressions. That source is the inherent difficulty people have in recognizing their own incompetence. Often, people who are incompetent in a performance domain are almost as confident -and at times just as confident- in their ability and performance as are their superbly skilled peers. And, by any measure, they grossly overestimate how well they are doing. In this proposal, I assert that this ;ack of insight about one's own incompetence is a product of two sets of psychological mechanisms. First, incompetent people lack the requisite metacognitive skills necessary to recognize when correct responses have been produced by themselves and others. Second, incompetent people deflect insights into their own incompetences as way of maintaining self-esteem. Thus, I describe experiments in inspired by this theoretical framework for the psychology of incompetence. I examine how past techniques used to protect self-insight into the accuracy of one's own judgments may not work for the incompetent, that is, the people who need it most. I explore how people's goals (e.g., the need to maintain a positive sense of self) may interfere with accurate insight into their incompetence. I examine situations that may make it easier or more difficult for people to gain awareness of their incompetence. Finally, I assess whether people often fail to improve their skills simply because they are not aware that improvement is necessary or possible. As such, this proposal focuses on the complex and controversial link between self-judgment and psychological health. Much research has shown that favorable self-impressions lead to desirable outcomes and psychological adjustment. However, self-impressions that are unrealistically positive have been linked to adverse consequences and poor psychological adjustment, such as risky health behavior and lack of social skill. By examining the exact mechanisms and circumstances that prevent people from recognizing their own incompetence, I plan to provide a more sophisticated picture of the links between self-judgment and psychological adjustment.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-RPHB-4 (01))
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Oliveri, Mary Ellen
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Cornell University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Balcetis, Emily; Dunning, David; Miller, Richard L (2008) Do collectivists know themselves better than individualists? Cross-cultural studies of the holier than thou phenomenon. J Pers Soc Psychol 95:1252-67
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Beauregard, K S; Dunning, D (1998) Turning up the contrast: self-enhancement motives prompt egocentric contrast effects in social judgments. J Pers Soc Psychol 74:606-21