Online descriptions of the Dunning-Kruger effect are often accompanied by a "mount stupid" graphic similar to the below - from a Psychology Today article:

enter image description here

However, the research paper does not contain this graphic. Here are some of the graphics from the original 1999 paper:

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These graphics bare little resemblance to the ones found online - having no "mount stupid" in evidence. The online images vary widely in their presentation, so if there is a primary source, then it would be good to know which one is the correct graphic, or if they are all fake.

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Similar images are used on some posts in this forum:

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    $\begingroup$ Just speculating, couldn't the peak be explained by the difference between actual test-score and perceived ability from the figures? The peak becomes smaller with every quartile. What is missing could be the part from before 'mount stupid'. $\endgroup$ Jul 31, 2017 at 11:02
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    $\begingroup$ I am not sure, but maybe the graphic was originally a representation of the Four stages of competence? (See also: 2nd to last paragraph of cogsci.stackexchange.com/q/16265 where a U Shaped graph was mentioned) $\endgroup$ Jul 31, 2017 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ The Illusion of Explanatory Depth (mentioned in my comment to that question) has a U-shaped graph that you can see here: researchgate.net/profile/Leon_Rozenblit/publication/50868445/…. Though it bears some similarity to the above, it's notably a U-shaped graph, not an S-curve, and it ends higher than it starts. It is a potential candidate here as it measures something similar to Dunning-Kruger (confidence of knowledge relative to actual knowledge). $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Jul 31, 2017 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ What does the graph of the ratio of the perceived and actual values look like? I think they'd look somewhat like the valley, and extrapolating back to 0,0 would complete it. $\endgroup$ Jan 8, 2022 at 1:37
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    $\begingroup$ Well, it would look like this ibb.co/5vFFSWf So the image - even as a knockoff from Kûbler-Ross Five stages of grief it seems to be simplified but still deliver a correct message. Sure absolutely, you wont be able to place a ruler and say - hey this is where you are, but is anyone trying to apply it like that? $\endgroup$
    – David Bern
    Dec 14, 2022 at 12:42

3 Answers 3


Short answer
The cartoon graphics showing mount stupid seem to be exaggerated, popular-scientific representations, and should, as far as I can see, be regarded as schematics to illustrate a more subtle effect.

From what I can find, the cartoons you provide are exaggerated and simplified versions depicting the more pronounced examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect like in Fig. 1 where subjects performed a Wason task (Schlösser et al., 2013). The mountain is somewhat visible here, especially in panel B where the raw scores are plotted. There the subjective performance increases monotonically, while the perceived score in the poorest quartile is above the second, which resembles the peak you are referring to. However, this is one of the most pronounced samples I could find and it may well be caused by variance, as other graphs in that same paper, other sources you provide above (Kruger & Dunning, 1999) don't show this peak. Similarly, plots in Dunning (2011) are less pronounced at this point.

Mountain of Stupid
Fig. 1. Actual versus perceived performance on Wason task. Dotted line represents where perceived performance should lay according to the Krajč–Ortmann model. source: (Schlösser et al., 2013)

- Dunning, Advances Exp Soc Psych (2011); 44: 247-96
- Kruger & Dunning, J Personality Social Psych (1999); 77(6): 121-34
- Schlösser et al., J Economic Psych (2013); 39: 85-100


A recent video essay on YouTube covers this topic quite well. The creator also failed to find a primary source for the "mount stupid" graphic, and concurs that it is not related to the Dunning-Kruger effect (see also this post, and this one). Notably, the graphic is incorrect in several important ways:

  • The Dunning-Kruger effect is about performance, not expertise.
  • The Dunning-Kruger effect is about estimated performance, not confidence.
  • Poor performers are not more confident or arrogant than high performers.

These differences mean that the graphic is not just exaggerated, but outright wrong.

Some of the comments point to a possible candidate source, called the Hype Cycle (see also this post), that actually pre-dates Dunning-Kruger by a few years:

enter image description here

This graphic is based on as much evidence as the "mount stupid" varieties - ie, none. Compare to:

enter image description here

Additionally, it is worth noting that the Dunning-Kruger effect itself is under contention, as I summarize in my answer to: Is there evidence to support the Dunning-Kruger effect? Thus, even if the graphic was accurate, it may not represent a real effect anyway.


I seem to have found the primary source of this piece of misinformation. I did a deep dive into this about a year ago when I saw these charts and instantly noticed none of them come from the source paper in any way.

I traced back reference upon reference until I finally found a chart with a watermark to this url: artandtechnology.com.au

Searching around the site, I found this image sitting there: enter image description here

Using the Wayback Machine I found this post is dated October 15, 2011. Notice how the picture states Nobel Prize Psychology 2000 and on the post he states:

This team won the Nobel Prize for Psychology in 2000 for proving that the unskilled in a field do not know what they don't know.

Which is a fact I also see repeated on a lot of similar charts, despite being completely untrue.

Setting a Google image search to only show posts before that date, I find only one other similar chart from a blog post. The blog post, found here, posts a comic from the webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal stating that it seems like a good representation of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This blog post is from April 13, 2011. The SMBC comic is as follows:

enter image description here

This comic was posted March 8, 2011 and makes no mention of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The only thing linking this comic to the Dunning-Kruger Effect is the aforementioned blog post.

My assumption is that the the cartoonist who made the cited Dunning-Kruger chart did a Google search for the term after hearing about it, saw the image result for blog post containing the SMBC comic, and copied it with only cursory knowledge. From there it was used by a few articles and it just spread from there.

These are all the earliest found mentions of anything with the Dunning-Kruger effect and a chart of this shape. All other versions of this seem to come after 2011. I found an article citing the artandtechnology.com.au chart in 2012, and then someone made a similar chart in 2013. Most charts look very similar to the artandtechnology.com.au one or are just slightly modified version to hide the source.


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