Is there a name for a cognitive bias that causes people who have been successful in one area to be overconfident in their level of knowledge / ability in another unrelated area?

It's related to the Dunning-Kruger effect, but I'm specifically referring to the case where the overconfidence comes as a result of having been successful, and feeling as if that success makes the person qualified to have strong opinions on all matters, even when at odds with experts in that field.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to psych.SE. In the Dunning-Kruger effect, experts underestimate their competence, while novices overestimate it. So the effect asserted here would in fact be the Dunning-Kruger effect - people expert in one field will underestimate their competence in that one field, but overestimate in every other field. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Apr 24, 2020 at 4:25
  • $\begingroup$ It seems like there's an interesting research opportunity here, although I can't see an easy method. It's clear that many folks who become public figures believe they know enough to opine on subjects far beyond their expertise. Some aren't claiming expertise, but only using their celebrity to bring visibility to a subject; a few actually take the time to acquire significant expertise. But some of this seems like a special case of Dunning-Kruger, where extreme knowledge in one domain gives license to venture into others. $\endgroup$
    – MrRedwood
    Apr 28, 2020 at 20:38

3 Answers 3


The Dunning-Kruger effect is specific to expertise in a particular domain. The domains tested in the original studies by Kruger & Dunning (1999) are: humor, logical reasoning, and English grammar.

It is fully possible to underestimate your skills in one domain in which you are an expert, and overestimate your skill in another in which you are a novice. As per an interview with Dunning, published at Vox.com:

But there are a couple things that people get wrong that are major.

The first is they think it’s about them [i.e., others]. That is, there are those people out there who are stupid and don’t realize they are stupid.

Now, those people may exist, and the work isn’t about that. It’s about the fact that this is a phenomenon that visits all of us sooner or later. Some of us are a little more flamboyant about it. Some of us aren’t. But not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition. The problem with it is we see it in other people, and we don’t see it in ourselves.

The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club. People miss that.

Your description also seems related to a logical fallacy, namely appeal to unqualified authority, or appeal to false authority, typically categorized simply under appeal to authority:

However, appealing to authority as a reason to believe something is fallacious whenever the authority appealed to is not really an authority in this particular subject, when the authority cannot be trusted to tell the truth, when authorities disagree on this subject (except for the occasional lone wolf), when the reasoner misquotes the authority, and so forth.

Kruger, J., & Dunning, D. (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of personality and social psychology, 77(6), 1121.



The cognitive bias that you are looking for is called the Overconfidence Bias. Your description exactly matches its symptoms. With this bias, an expert is more likely to be the victim of overconfidence. This overconfidence, however, is not within the expert's field but within a totally unrelated field in which both the expert and an average layperson have a similar lack of experience. (So, technically, both the expert and a layperson are both laypeople in this field.) For particular reasons, the expert believes that the prowess in their own field will translate over to or aid them with an unrelated field.

A special feature of the Overconfidence Bias is that the expert's overestimation of his abilities increases as the difficulty of the task increases. ie. The more difficult/complex the task is, the more confident the expert is that he can complete the task. Reversely, when the task gets easier, the expert still believes that he can accomplish the task better than an average layperson but his advantage is not as great.

Below is a passage from the Wikipedia page about the Overconfidence Bias which restates the above. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overconfidence_effect

The overconfidence effect is a well-established bias in which a person's subjective confidence in his or her judgements is reliably greater than the objective accuracy of those judgements, especially when [their] confidence is relatively high. "The Role of Individual Differences in the Accuracy of Confidence Judgments" The Journal of General Psychology. 129 (3): 257–299

"The key finding is that confidence exceeds accuracy so long as the subject is answering hard questions about an unfamiliar topic."

"This phenomenon is most likely to occur on hard tasks, hard items, when failure is likely or when the individual making the estimate is not especially skilled."

The above scenario may initially appear to be the Dunning-Kruger Effect because the expert is indeed a novice in an unrelated field and is overestimating his abilities like in the Dunning-Kruger Effect. However, with the Overconfidence Bias, the expert overestimates his abilities more than the average layperson does. Further, the harder the task, the larger the overestimation by the expert. This particular increase in overestimation will not occur in a normal layperson. As you can see, the Overconfidence Bias differs slightly but significantly from the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

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    $\begingroup$ The Wikipedia article you cite says nothing in relation to experts being more likely to be a victim of overconfidence, or prowess in one field carrying over to another. Neither is that stated in the specific segment you quote. -1 since your claim that "[w]ith this bias, an expert is more likely to be the victim of overconfidence" appears nowhere in your citation even though that is what your entire answer revolves around. It sounds plausible, but it is simply not mentioned. Furthermore, what is an 'expert' in this case according to you? Simply someone who is more highly educated, or ...? $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    May 25, 2020 at 13:16
  • $\begingroup$ Why are you attacking my answer when you can simply look up other sources to verify it's true? It would take you 5 minutes. It would be much faster than you writing your last comment. Do you really want me to rewrite my answer again? After I basically rewrote it even though I thought there was nothing wrong with it, except a little style? Writing for me takes a long time. I know that everyone here doesn't have much psychology experience. And, while I'm just a hobbyist, I've read a decent amount for the past 3-4 years so I can help a little more. It's nothing to get competitive about. $\endgroup$ May 25, 2020 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ I think an even more important revelation is that Dunning and Kruger are possibly wrong about their namesake theory. Someone can write a publishable paper about it, which would get a lot of citations. I already intimated what was wrong with it in my original answer, information that a lot of people could have used. But, I was forced to erase it because it was slightly tangential to the original question's topic. $\endgroup$ May 25, 2020 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ Rules and laws are rarely comprehensive. I mean almost never. In reality, there are always exceptions that need to be considered. That is why there is called something called "legislative intent". The intent of the law is more important than a strict reading of the rules. So, even if I was stating info that was a slight digression, isn't the spreading of important information be the ultimate goal? $\endgroup$ May 25, 2020 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ Because answers need to be able to stand on its own. And regardless, misattribution of citations warrants a down vote by itself in my book. This has nothing to do with 'competitiveness'. In case you edit I can always retract my down vote, and even up vote if your new sources convince me. As you say, if it only takes you 5 minutes to improve/fix the answer, why not address the actual concerns or prove me wrong rather than complaining/going off topic? $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    May 26, 2020 at 9:33

Technically maybe not a "cognitive bias," but... "ultracrepidarianism"?

Wikipedia: "Ultracrepidarianism is the tendency for people to confidently make authoritative pronouncements in matters above or outside one's level of knowledge. Often, those pronouncements fall entirely outside the ultracrepidarian's realm of legitimate expertise."

"Another expression of ultracrepidarianism, as instantiated by those with an actual expertise in something, is the tendency to start treating all other fields as somehow being sub-categories to your own field."


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