In 1994, Clifton Johnson heard a rumor that if you wipe lemon juice on your face, your face would be invisible to cameras.
He told his friend McArthur Wheeler about this. Not surprisingly, Mac was a bit skeptical. So he decided to test it out.
McArthur covered his face in lemon juice, and then took a photo of himself with his Polaroid camera.
Lo and behold, McArthur’s lemon-covered face didn’t show up in the photo.*
Pretty excited about this revelation, the boys decided to use it to their benefit.
On January 6, 1995, the lads covered their faces in lemon juice, grabbed their handguns, and proceeded to rob two banks.
Keep in mind, they didn’t wear masks or any other disguises – they just smeared lemon juice on their faces so that they would remain invisible to the security cameras.
Or so they thought.
I think we all can agree, without having to test out the theory, that this is completely absurd.
Fast forward a couple of days later and the chaps were clearly identified from the security footage. It couldn’t be more clear.
It didn’t take long for the police to apprehend these criminal masterminds, after which they were sentenced to nearly 25 years in prison (which equates to one year for every $200 they stole – yup, their lemon face shenanigans netted them a whopping $5200).
A few years later, a college professor read the story about these lemonheads and made a discovery that impacts you and the people with whom you work.
The Measure of Actual Competence
David Dunning was a professor of social psychology at Cornell University in the mid-1990s. Upon reading about the lemon juice boys, he began to think about the limits of stupidity.
More specifically, he wondered if one’s stupidity protects them from an awareness of their own stupidity.
He recruited his graduate student, Justin Kruger, and they set off to research whether or not a person’s perceived competence can be measured against their actual competence.
Their results became known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect.