The Why #70: Why do 25 million Australians suddenly believe they’re football experts?

4 min readAug 24, 2023

By Dan Monheit 25th August 2023

Question submitted by Lucas, Malvern

It feels like just yesterday. You’re down at the local, watching the ‘Tillies battle it out on the field. Parma steaming. Crowd heaving. Nobody leaving.

As the half time whistle sounds and the short break sets in, you start noticing the conversations all around you. To the left are a group of young tradies debating the pros and cons of playing Sam Kerr despite her troubled knee. To the right are an oddly mismatched group who could only be ‘work friends’, politely arguing about whether a penalty shootout moves to sudden death after the first five rounds.

For a life-long ‘Football’ fan like yourself Lucas, I can only imagine the frustration that comes from hearing fellow patrons talk so much rubbish with so much conviction. It was a calf injury for heaven’s sake!

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger Effect occurs when a person’s lack of knowledge in a certain area causes them to overestimate their own competence or understanding. By contrast, it also causes those who genuinely excel in a given area to underestimate their own abilities.

In 1999, Cornell University researchers David Dunning and Justin Kruger unveiled the Dunning-Kruger Effect (what were the chances?). They asked a group of students to take part in a range of tests focused on humour, grammar, and logical reasoning. They then asked participants to evaluate how well they think they did on the tests.

Interestingly, those in the lowest 25% of test scores massively overestimated their abilities, assuming they’d be one of the top performers. Even more interestingly, those in the top 25% tended to modestly underestimate their high-achieving scores.

The kicker here is that when we fall victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect we’re not just ignorant, but also ignorant of our own ignorance. For those who are new to watching the beautiful game, the recently acquired knowledge of basic rules and team history is enough to inflate their sense of expertise beyond any sense of doubt.

But alas Lucas, anything that gets more of us talking about the ‘Tillie’s is a good thing in my books!

And in a way, we can’t blame them. The Dunning-Kruger Effect gets us all where we least expect it. It’s why we all believe we’re incredible drivers, the reason your recently engaged friend suddenly knows everything about diamond cuts, and why your Mum’s recent wine tour has made her an instant sommelier when it comes to ordering a house Shiraz.

As advertising, sales and marketing folk, we’re often pitching to people whose confidence to competence ratio is way out of whack. When confronted with a ‘premature expert’, the play is to slowly, gently offer guidance and information that will help them realise there’s way more to consider. Personal anecdotes (“I spent way too much on my first bike…”) and open ended questions (“what style of cycling is your go to?”) are your best weapons for building trust and setting the foundation for a mutually beneficial, long term relationship.

Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

PS If you missed the last edition, you can see why Barbeque Dads and TikTok Teens love New Balance here.

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Bad Decisions Podcast
Learn more about the Dunning-Kruger Effect in episode #31 of the Bad Decisions podcast.

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