Research has shown that we humans are generally pretty awful at assessing our own competence and abilities, which in turn leads us to overestimate them — a phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The effect creates a vicious loop that boils down to this: The less skilled you are at something, the less likely you are to recognize how unskilled you truly are, and thus you overestimate your abilities. Worse still, because you can’t see your errors, you’ll never know you need to correct. (If this all sounds familiar, you’ve probably heard of the classic study in which 80 percent of surveyed drivers ranked their driving skills as “above average.” Noodle on that one.)

Conversely, the better we get at something, the likelier we are to see how much more we can improve, which can sometimes lead us to underestimateourselves. Similarly, those who are exceptionally skilled at something can sometimes think everyone else is at that level, making them unaware of how exceptional their abilities are. Think: Impostor syndrome.

We all do this! It’s simply in our nature, so it’s not a behavior meant to deceive others or to unreasonably prop up our own ego. In the influential study that first examined this phenomenon in 1999, researchers found that once people realize how bad they are at something, they’ll readily cop to it and want to improve.

Read the full article at the New York Times.