OSR Journal of Student Research

Article Title

The Neural Correlates of the Dunning-Kruger Effect


Alana Muller


The Dunning-Kruger effect is a metacognitive phenomenon in social psychology in which individuals who perform poorly on a task believe they performed well, whereas individuals who performed very well believe their performance was only average. Currently, the neural correlates of this effect are unknown as it has only been investigated in the context of behavioral measures such as math tests or word tasks. We elicited the Dunning-Kruger effect using a novel method in CSUSB students via an episodic memory task while concurrently recording electroencephalography (EEG) to capture the neural activity occurring during the judgment of performance and memory. Participants studied a list of words and their memory for the words was later tested in a retrieval task using a five-point recognition confidence scale. They were also asked repeatedly during the retrieval task to estimate their percentile performance on the memory task compared to their peers. Participants were separated into quartiles based on their actual percentile ranking. Participants in the bottom quartile significantly overestimated their percentile ranking while participants in the top quartile significantly underestimated their percentile ranking. To analyze the EEG data during the percentile judgment, participants were regrouped into those who underestimated, overestimated, and correctly estimated their performance. Preliminary analyses show that the neural activity of underestimators, overestimators, and correct estimates differ when judging their percentile ranking during the task. Further analyses assessed the role of episodic memory in the Dunning-Kruger effect by group.

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