Dunning-Kruger Effect: Illusory Superiority

I have being increasingly concerned about my lack of knowledge, this nagging sense that I’m behind the eight ball and I don’t know how to catch up.  My fears have being allayed by the discovery of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

According to Wiki “In the field of psychology, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias, wherein persons of low ability suffer from illusory superiority when they mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater then it is.”

Dunning and Kruger’s research has indicated that incompetent people will:

  • fail to recognise own lack of skill
  • fail to recognise the extent of their inadequacy
  • fail to accurately gauge skills in others
  • recognise and acknowledge their lack of skill only after being exposed to formal training in that skill

Since commencing studying mental health I have being overwhelmed by this gigantic sense of inadequacy, lack of knowledge, lack of experience and more importantly, lack of time to learn due to my 3 little people. Thankfully the Dunning-Kruger effect vindicates me, I’m on the right track. The fact that I am aware of just how much I don’t know and cannot see any similarities between myself and the attributes of an ‘incompetent’ person, puts me in good stead to not be a complete failure at my chosen field.

I do recall once falling under the spell of this effect and ended up  looking like a massive tool. After drinking all afternoon and feeling pretty confident about myself I declared that I could wakeboard really well, I did line up behind the boat and proceeded to sink. Turns out I couldn’t wakeboard. We can all be forgiven for having these lapse in judgement and they’re good for a laugh once in a while, but one would hope that people in really, really important roles, such as President, would strive for knowledge, to know more then think they know! (Hint Hint)

David Dunning ( one of the founders) wrote that “people with severe gaps in knowledge and expertise fail to recognise how little they know and how badly they behave.” Enough said.



brain · mental health

Changing the path of a potential psychopath

Do we, individuals involved in fostering and ensuring optimum outcomes for child development have the potential to reverse the path of a potential psychopath? Apparently so. Amazing…

This idea has being written about by a Neuroscientist named James Fallon. He has written a book called ‘ The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey Into The Dark Side of The Brain’. The story goes that he was researching Alzheimer’s using healthy family members brain MRI’s as the control while reviewing MRI’S of murdering psychopaths concurrently. One of the healthy brain scans somehow got into the set of psychopath scans. He thought a mistake had being made, his brain scan mirrored those of the psychopaths.

He started digging into his past and his family’s past. His Mum said that when he was younger he was a happy kid but had points in his life when he was really weird. Certain parents forbade their kids from hanging out with him and others thought he would grow up as a bad ass gang leader or drug lord. Professional friends he has an adult were able to identify behaviour he sometimes displayed as ‘psychopathic’.

Interestingly he found that he had a series of genetic alleles called “warrior genes”, which effect serotonin. The theory is that there is a higher risk of aggression, violence and low interpersonal empathy with someone who has these genes and is raised in an abusive environment. Alternatively, being raised in a positive environment can counteract the potential negative effects of these genes.

According to this neuroscientist, children who are primary psychopaths- that is they have the genes and the brain which predisposes them to this- can have behaviours emerging around 2-3 yrs. His idea is that if we can see these primary psychopathic behviours emerging in kids  we can discuss this with families and look at how to protect them and the child, and involve health professionals to oversee his development. Looking at how to protect them from things like bullying, anxiety, bad influences, violence etc.

As someone who is heavily interested in child development, including how we become who we are, nature vs nurture, attachment theory etc, this notion of reversing something that may be genetically pre-programmed is a fascinating suggestion. In my line of work with children and families, children exposed to abusive environments occurs too frequently. These families often purposefully limit their access to services which could benefit them greatly. Especially the benefits that could present for children at a young age when that extraordinary, crucial brain development is occurring. Specifically the limbic system which develops in these young ages and affects their ability to regulate emotion from youth to adulthood.

Whatever the future advancements or practices are in this area, infant brain development is clearly so paramount and will channel the path of  individuals throughout their life. We have the knowledge about what damage does during these young years if not rectified but we seem to be at a standstill, sentencing innocent little people to a life with a mind they can’t control, all the while watching on and making pointless observations.


Head injuries in sport: messing with my mind

Various studies have being conducted showing that negative effects emerge when individuals endure repetitive injuries to the head. This seems pretty obvious, the brain is all soft and squishy, floating in some pretty important fluid with a fragile little shell surrounding it to protect it from the outside world. It makes you think that the brain is not made to be pounded over and over again. Evolution hasn’t sorted this problem out.

A study of Australian Football League players in Perth looked at the link between head knocks and depression. The study showed a correlation between these two occurrences. Nothing surprising there. In America in the early 2000’s, Dr Bennet Omalu found a direct link between chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) caused by repetitive head knocks in football. CTE has being shown to cause issues such as cognitive and intellectual impairment, depression, drug abuse etc.

As a non footballer, why does this affect me? The study conducted in Perth found that within 2 weeks of a concussion 40% of players experienced depressive symptoms, with other players who experienced a significant head knock being 14% more likely to experience depressive symptoms.

Again, how does this affect me? The probability of depressive symptoms increases with players who took multiple blows in a 2 week period. This is where it affects me. I was 15 and playing hockey. I was selected for a talent development squad where I was going to learn all the finer skills I didn’t have. I could sprint, run long distances and was incredibly determined so it was just the skills I was holding out for.

I recall the first time I got hit, running into the circle I got knocked down by a ball flying at my forehead that the goalie had kicked. Not to be dramatic but I did cover distance. Hurt a lot, big egg on my head, lots of attention, blah, blah, blah…

The next week I was running into the circle, up against an ex Australian goalie. The exact same thing happened, on exactly the same egg that was there from last week. That bloody nob on my head to the ball was like the empire state building to lightning. Again I flew, and then went back to boarding school. This wasn’t a netball blow to the head, the “here if you need, here if you need, only if you really need”, trip you up and land with a gentle touch down on your pretty little butt. It was the, someone has thrown a ball size meteorite at close range straight at your head. Think Vin Diesel running into a building when a bomb goes off and he gets thrown backwards. Very similar.

The first night I remember feeling off, nauseous, dazed, detached. My first introduction to the ‘exploding head syndrome’ (EHS). (Please google this, it is real). Wiki says “a person hears loud imagined noises eg bomb exploding or experiences an explosive feeling when falling asleep or waking up.” My EHS experience when going to sleep, was a feeling of falling accompanied with a loud, persistent high pitched scream.

The next day I remember feeling like I wasn’t present, internally freaking out in English Lit class. We were talking about the protagonist of the novel who was an existentialist. We were not meant to identify with him but I gave a rambling speech about what a great bloke he was, the class went quiet…crickets. I got up and left. (My penchant for odd comments was there without the head injury, but it was a good excuse that time).

After that I lost all confidence. When I got into the circle the biggest sense of dread and fear overwhelmed me, leaving me hesitating and lost. I would tell myself over and over that this is what I wanted to do, but the invisible barrier was imposing and persistent and naturally won the mind game. I despised the game of hockey, quit the development squad and only played where competition was minimal and little was required of me.  Looking back it seems all very trivial and high school girlish, but at the time it created an identity problem. Enter the previously mentioned “Most Beautiful One of All” brother. We became very close and he taught me that I could obviously create any identity I wanted.

It’s all very middle class, private school girl tragedy. I struggled with my identity all because of a game about chasing a ball around the field. I mean, come on. Other adolescents struggle with their identity because a bomb wiped out their entire family, or they are sole carer of a parent with a chronic illness and playing sport is a luxury they will never experience. It’s all relative.

What I do find fascinating is those minute little incidences that change outcomes in our lives. It reminds me of being a kid, when you made a river in the dirt and created little barriers or off shoots to change the direction of the river. I could view the knocks to the head as being a gift, leading to the development of my relationship with my brother. Or, I could purely blame genetics, it wasn’t fated or bad luck, the ball was trying to clear me but my head was just too big.  Maybe it taught me the joy of being in a team and having each other’s back, relishing the beauty of a shared experience rather than how I’m going feed my ego.

Whatever greater meaning I’m trying desperately to cling to, it doesn’t take away the scary effects of these knocks to the head. Particularly worrisome is the effect that these knocks would have to be having on adolescents developing and fragile brains. It use to be that a knock to the head in football was all a part of the initiation process for boys becoming men, the harder the knock the harder it means you go in, the more respect. Not anymore.

emuThe shared experience of a team of ‘Emus’.

childbirth · parenting

Light housework reward for childbirth

I watched a woman state this line on a breastfeeding webinar, 2017, not 1950’s. After a woman has had a c-section and her GP has given her the go-ahead, she can go back to light housework duties such as dusting.


All my childhood dreams coming to fruition. All that sport, study, contemplating, dreaming, all to dust a house. That woman got payed to say that. Is that not depressing? After carrying a baby for 9 mths, the once finely muscled apparatus reduced to wobbles and skipping with my legs closed, all to become an indent on the couch, feeding a crying baby and imagining what a whole, fulfilled human I will be when I can dust a house.

What about women without kids, is that what they get to look forward to after a particularly arduous task, perhaps volunteering in a 3rd world country, or working on a complex case, is their reward at the end of the day to clean a fucking house, or perhaps a pay rise, recognition or self fulfillment. A guy heals from a vasectomy or a nasty case of itchy balls, is his reward at the end of the tunnel to dust a house?

I understand this is a tad cynical, perhaps even a little over the top. Clearly I really, really do not like cleaning. I get more satisfaction staring at a blank wall or listening to that dull women on the webinar then a good spring clean.

What I personally would have loved to hear was encouragement and positive words. Something along the lines of, when healed you can start doing light activities that help you reconnect with yourself, your family and friends. Something that reminds you to become reacquainted with who you are rather than an outdated version of what women should be.

Here’s to reaching higher.

“Some women marry houses.

It’s another kind of skin; it has a heart

a mouth, a lover and bowel movements.

The walls are permanent and pink.

See how she sits on her knees all day,

Faithfully washing herself down.”

-Anne Sexton

depression · grief

‘The Most Beautiful One of All’ : Sibling Grief

When I looked into writing blog articles, the recommendations were to write about something you know about, something you’re passionate about. Well, I am not passionate about it, but I do live it, I have the t-shirt!! Sibling Grief.IMG_20170422_0001_NEW My older brother (pictured above), died in a car accident, something I always had an intuitive feeling would happen but secretly hoped that if you willed something hard enough to not occur then it wouldn’t. I even wrote in my diary a month before he died, imploring some higher power to not take him. Just like those movies Final Destination, I knew what was going to happen so I use to do little things like follow him in a car to a party to prevent it, to cheat the plan. I wrote him a poem for his 21st, detailing how he was ‘The Most Beautiful One of All’. I thought that smothering him with love might also cheat the plan. I always had a sense about him that he was too beautiful and dynamic, that this world didn’t fit him. Like there was a rule, that something so perfect could not exist.

It was not that he was actively trying to die, but those who knew him well understood that he was trying his hardest to push everything to its infinite possibilities. Hoping for some kind of spiritual awakening. He is the most beautiful person I have ever known, inside and out. A vulnerable, insightful, funny, finely tuned, free spirit of a human who imprinted himself on those he loved in such a way that you craved to be in his space. When you weren’t with him, you thought about how right your life would be once you were together again.

Interestingly I read an article describing sibling grief in the Compassionate Friends newsletter, as discussed through the findings of the book ‘Sibling Grief: Healing After the Death of a Sister or Brother’. Losing a sibling as an adult (I was 17 and he was 22) gets put into the category of ‘disenfranchised grief’. Defined as “when your heart is #grieving but you can’t talk about or share your pain with others because it is considered unacceptable to others (society)” (from Expressive Counselling & Coaching). I was unaware during my venture into grief that there is a timeline of allowable grieving. I quickly found that once you pass that time frame you are breaching the realms of acceptability and launching into problematic grieving that society will not accept. After the first couple of months of conspicuous compassion by the well meaner’s, you’re on your own.

My 7 year journey into the pits of grief was award winning. If I was an actress portraying myself I’m sure there would’ve be an award in it for my spectacular fall from grace. Unfortunately, in real life there are no awards, you are not assimilating into society as you should so therefore you are problem. People defined and projected onto me what they thought my relationship with my brother should be in their experiences, who they thought I was and therefore how I should grieve. Their rhetoric was so excruciating to listen to, but they truly thought they were doing a great job. Giving me some home truths.

According to the article, when a sibling dies the other sibling/s must seek a new identity. I can’t remember who wrote it, but somewhere along the lines, “I lost the me in him, and the him in me.” Your whole identity, your personality, your history are so intrinsically linked to that person being there. The abyss left without them is insurmountable.

In our family, his death had the impact of the butterfly effect (chaos theory) ‘ a butterfly flaps it’s wings in New Mexico causing a hurricane in China’. On a global scale, his death was a random and insignificant as a little butterfly flapping its wing, producing little to no change, but on his family it caused the bottom to fall out. When I was younger I told someone in a cliche manner that my brother thought the whole world revolved around him, but it didn’t. I was lying through my teeth, in my insignificant world, the whole world did revolve around him, he was my world, part of my identity.

The depression was insidious, but at least consistent, limited to no joy. I remember someone telling me very helpfully how self absorbed/ selfish everyone thought I was. That’s the joy of that kind of rip your soul out, beat the shit out of you depression, you are self absorbed, the only person you can think about is yourself, and the whole time your are thinking about how you’re going to get away from this person you despise.

Majority of the time I can drive my car without breaking down and seeking a corner to curl up in the foetal position . I can listen to the drivel coming out of people’s mouth from a semi-amused, observer position, pretending all the while that he is with me and we’re observing together, as my brother said “I hate stupid people”. Or I can languish in the beautiful waters that he loved, feeling like I couldn’t get any closer to him if I tried.

Sir Bob Geldof said ‘time doesn’t heal grief, it just accommodates it.” I hear you, it’s all there, every excruciating, soul shattering moment is imprinted on my being. It doesn’t matter how far I go through time, my body and soul, my conscious and unconscious know exactly what happened, it’s all there in the archives, waiting to jump out and knock the crap out of me again.

I could go on and on, I am an expert didn’t you know? A member of a select club that nobody wants to be part of. The spellbinding, utterly sublime Nick Cave, discusses below so perfectly what sudden, catastrophic grief does to you. Not the expected deaths which follows the natural order of life, but the stuff that tears you apart and then instructs you to find a way to exist in this state with no plan on how you’re going to do this.