Social Psychology Network

Maintained by Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

David Dunning

David Dunning

At its most general, my research focuses on accuracy and illusion in human judgment. In my social psychological work, I am interested in how, and when, people's perceptions of themselves and their surrounding differ from an objectively definable reality. In my psycholegal work, I concentrate on accuracy and error in eyewitness testimony.

My social psychological work focuses on two related phenomena concerning self and social judgment. First, I am interested in why people tend to have overly favorable and objectively indefensible views of their own abilities. For example, a full 94% of college professors say they do "above average" work, although it is impossible for nearly everyone to be above average. Second, I am interested in why people use themselves as the "model of excellence" in judgments of other people. For example, ask people what it takes to be an "effective leader," and they tend to describe someone who resembles themselves. Task-oriented people (e.g., they describe themselves as persistent, ambitious) tend to cite task-skills as important in leadership. People-oriented individuals (e.g., they describe themselves as friendly and tactful) tend to emphasize social skills in their definition of the effective leader. In past work, I have found that the second phenomenon (using the self as model of excellence) produces the first phenomenon describe above (too many people describe themselves as above average). I have also found that using the self as the model of excellence in judging others leads to many disagreements in social judgment. In current work, I am focusing on why people tend to define excellence so egocentrically. But, more importantly, I am looking for circumstances in which people will stop using themselves as the standard of judgment.

My work in eyewitness testimony is a search for something, anything that might help people to distinguish accurate eyewitnesses from erroneous ones. In recently published work, we focus on witnesses making identifications of a perpetrator from a line-up. We found that asking witnesses how they reached their identifications went a good way toward telling whether they had made an accurate ones. Accurate witnesses tended to have difficulty providing a description of how they had reached their decisions (e.g., "I don't know why, I just recognized him."). Inaccurate witnesses tended to have long-winded explanations focusing on process of elimination (e.g., I compared the photos to each other in order to narrow the choices."). In more recent work, we are trying to extend this research by refining these measures, to find more valid and reliable measures of eyewitness accuracy and error.

Primary Interests:

  • Causal Attribution
  • Judgment and Decision Making
  • Law and Public Policy
  • Person Perception
  • Self and Identity

Research Group or Laboratory:

Books:

Journal Articles:

Other Publications:

  • Dunning, D. (1993). Words to live by: The self and definitions of social concepts and categories. In J. Suls (Ed.), Psychological perspectives on the self (Vol. 4, pp. 99-126). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Courses Taught:

  • Cognitive Social Psychology
  • Psychology and Law
  • Research Methods in Psychology
  • The Self

David Dunning
Department of Psychology
Uris Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853
United States

  • Phone: (607) 255-6391
  • Fax: (607) 255-8433

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