The Dunning-Kruger effect and sports betting

Most people are simply not any good at estimating their own abilities and knowledge, claim psychologists.

Previous blog posts on this site have highlighted biases such as belief bias, confirmation bias, survivorship bias, sunk cost fallacy and anchoring bias – all common mental flaws that affect our thought processes and decision making every day. One such bias which are closely related to the ones mentioned above is the Dunning-Kruger effects, a cognitive bias that helps fuel social media posts and discussion forums all over the globe…

What is the Dunning-Kruger effect?

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a supposed cognitive bias, a mental flaw described by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger (hence the name) in 1999, stating that:

  • People with low ability and knowledge of a topic will overestimate their own ability and knowledge
  • People with high ability and knowledge of a topic will underestimate their own ability and knowledge

In short, it says that most people lack the self-knowledge to estimate their own level of competence. Unfortunately, this shortage of insight leads to bad decisions, bad performances and frequent error-making. 

The Dunning-Kruger effect does not describe the lack of competence people have of certain tasks and topics; after all we can’t master everything. The term describes the combination of being useless at something while believing you are pretty good at it, a trait some will attribute to certain football managers and experts. 

It also describes the combination of having no real knowledge of a topic while believing you are well informed, a characteristic we see every day in social media channels where incompetent keyboard warriors confidently argue on (often with a lot of agression) a variety of topics with professors and experts.

As for the opposite effect, Dunning and Kruger found that competent students on a topic had a tendency to underestimate their own competence, perhaps because they had a better overview of the complexity of said topic and because they forgot the amount of training and research they had endured to master the topic or task.

Dunning-Kruger in sports betting

It’s easy to get carried away when sports betting, whether you are coming off a win streak or a losing sequence. Don’t let the Dunning-Kruger effect impact your decision making, remember that your skill (or lack of it) in selecting bets does not change overnight just because you had a good run or a bad run.

Don’t skip your homework and raise your stakes when winning – you might not be as good as you think you are. Don’t despair, change your stakes or try to overcompensate when losing, chances are you are just enduring a run of bad luck. 

Just do the hard work and think probabilities and you will have an edge on the many gamblers who run hot and cold depending on their recent betting history. 

Remember that the top indicator of a sharp bettor is the ability to beat the bookmaker closing lines.