10 July 2007

One Is a Genius,

I was once a psychology major. Well, I was once an everything major, meaning I went through a new major about once a semester. My fondest memories of psychology class involve me showing up after a shift at Rendezvous Cafe -- a Middle Eastern spot that served killer sandwiches, grape leaves, crepes, and smoothies -- stinking like all hell.

One of my friends in class insisted she possessed an enhanced sense of smell and refused to sit next to me. It really wasn't a subtle hint that she didn't like me; I just stank from all the delicious aromas. What're you gonna do when you have a $400 long-distance (girlfriend) bill to pay for? Keep working and stinking, right? I started skipping my psych classes, maybe partly out of shame, maybe mostly out of sheer laziness, whatever. A few weeks later, psychology wasn't for me.

Fast forward to this past weekend when I met a Professor of psychology -- who, very coincidentally, taught the last six years at Michigan. The "p" in professor shouldn't be capitalized but trust me, when you meet an actual professor, even in a social setting, the "P" screams to be capped up.

This very young for her age professor specializes in social psych, the exact area of psychology I'm most interested in. Her further focus is toward Asian-Americans and people of mixed descent. How it affects their self-esteem, how it forms their identity, why Asian-American males are such wussies, that kind of thing. It's the exact topics I like to think about on an amateur level. I wanted really badly to validate some of my observations and theories with a professional but I curtailed that curiosity as much as I could.

You can't barge in on someone's lazy Saturday and pound them with questions about their work. But looking through her bookshelf filled with familiar social psych books, I was like, "Hum, there's a good chance she's written some of these. I should probably stop talking right now and just shut up -- about anything."

It must be so cool to be a social psychologist. You get to dream up fun theories like the "Dunning-Kruger effect," which states that people who have precious little knowledge believe they know more than everyone else. Basically, people overestimate how good they are at something. Wait, this isn't news! Everyone (needs to) thinks they're better than they actually are. But Dunning & Kruger get to create blanket statements like this:

  1. Incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill,
  2. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize genuine skill in others,
  3. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy,
  4. If they can be trained to substantially improve their own skill level, these individuals can recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill.
Then they design human lab rat experiments to test these hypotheses out. How fun is that? How about I make up some tests to figure out how much I think people are incompetent and then you sign up to prove it. Sound good? Thanks.
"Tis better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt."