Disaster threat and the Dunning-Kruger effect
Siems, Jeffrey W.
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Decision making is a cognitive process of selecting a course of action or belief amongmultiple alternative choices. However, pressures of time, circumstance or unappreciated wickedness can create a situation where an ostensibly illogical choice overtakes rational decision making. Sometimes, when evaluated by those considered experts, decisions made in disasters seem irrational, harmful, or iniquitous in nature. A cognitive bias known as the Dunning-Kruger effect posits that individuals who lack the necessary skills to make rational decisions can also lack the metacognitive ability to realize that their decision making is flawed. The Dunning-Kruger theory theorizes this can result in the individual exhibiting overconfidence to adequately address the threat. Essentially, the unskilled are unaware and overconfident. This thesis investigates the occurrence of the Dunning-Kruger effect in individual decision making during disasters. The author analyzed 12 indicators by coding interview transcripts of disaster survivors. This thesis includes two case studies: Hurricane Katrina, representing a natural disaster, and the World Trade Center attacks, exemplifying a human-caused disaster. In each case, 30 transcripts of survivors were reviewed, and Dunning-Kruger indicators were present in both case studies. How individuals process realized or perceived threat is important for homeland security policy makers. Future research should be conducted to better understand how Dunning-Kruger effects influence disaster decision making.
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