David Dunning, a Cornell professor of social psychology, became fascinated by the true story of McArthur Wheeler, an incompetent bank robber who believed that rubbing your face with lemon juice rendered you invisible to video cameras.
Dunning wondered whether, since Wheeler was too stupid to be a bank robber, he might also be too stupid to know that he was too stupid to be a bank robber. In other words, his stupidity protected him from an awareness of his own stupidity.
Dunning wondered if the principle could be applied to more people than just Wheeler, and along with graduate student Justin Kruger, he wrote the paper, "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties of Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessments."
According to the New York Times:
"Dunning and Kruger argued ... 'When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.
Instead, like Mr. Wheeler, they are left with the erroneous impression they are doing just fine.'"