Are the unskilled doomed to remain unaware?
The unskilled-and-unaware problem describes a negative relationship between one’s skill level and self-assessment bias: the less skilled are, on average, more unaware of the absolute and relative quality of their performance. In this paper, we study whether, and to what extent, the miscalibration (largely, overconfidence) of the unskilled can be reduced by feedback. We report the results of two studies, one in a natural setting and one in a more controlled setting, where participants make incentivized judgments of their absolute and relative performance in various tasks and feedback conditions. In the first study, participants improve their calibration after being exposed to naturally available information in the form of environmental feedback (i.e., feedback about the nature of the task) and calibration feedback (i.e., feedback about one’s absolute and relative performance), but it is impossible to separate the effects of the two types of feedback. In the more controlled setting of the second study, we identified a positive effect of calibration feedback alone. In both studies, it is the unskilled who improve their calibration most. Our results suggest that the unskilled may not be doomed to be especially unaware. We also identify an important difference between the effects of feedback on the calibration of absolute and relative performance judgments. While the calibration of absolute performance judgments is more uniformly amenable to feedback, there appears to be a residual miscalibration of relative performance judgments by the unskilled that we attribute to differences in information acquisition and self-image.
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