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Stephen Fry explains why Donald Trump believes his own bluster: 'Complete ignorance breeds confidence'

'The incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge'

Samuel Osborne
Monday 15 May 2017 13:17 BST
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News of the investigation into Stephen Fry brought to light the existence of blasphemy laws in New Zealand
News of the investigation into Stephen Fry brought to light the existence of blasphemy laws in New Zealand (AP)

Stephen Fry has explained the psychological biases behind leading Donald Trump to believe his own hype.

The British comedian described the Dunning-Kruger effect, which leads the least proficient people to overestimate their own abilities.

In a video entitled "Will Trump's lies cost lives? Can we break his spell? Killer cognitive biases," Fry used the example of McArthur Wheeler, who robbed two banks after learning lemon juice could be used as an invisible ink and believing it would hide him from CCTV.

“When the police found him he was shocked,” Fry said.

The 59-year-old went on to explain how the case led to the discovery of the Dunning-Kruger effect and why it is relevant to Mr Trump's presidency.

Professors David Dunning and Justin Kruger "found that the least proficient students dramatically overestimated their own ability," Fry said.

"The skills they lacked were the same skills required to recognise their incompetence."

He added: "The incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge. Could the Dunning-Kruger effect explain some of Trump's actions?"

Stephen Fry under police investigation for blasphemy after branding God an 'utter maniac'

Mr Fry also explained how the President is affected by salience bias, where people focus on shocking or negative news rather than the positive.

He pointed to the example of Mr Trump's rhetoric about crimes committed by immigrants and explained that immigrants actually reduce the crime rate.

"The cost of our distorted view may include a $20bn border wall," Fry added.

The comedian also discussed how Mr Trump's uses repetition and incendiary statements as "a powerful diversion."

"Complete ignorance breeds confidence," he added.

"When Trump raises fear of immigrant terrorists," Fry said, "keep in mind that since 9/11, no one has died in a terrorist attack by immigrants from the countries he wants to ban.

"Meanwhile the environmental protection agency has prevented hundreds of thousands of early deaths from air pollution alone."

Paraphrasing American historian Daniel J Boorstin, Fry concluded: "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance. It is the illusion of knowledge."

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