‘Know-it-alls’ don’t know as much as they think, new research finds.
The more people think they know about a topic, the more likely they are to claim that totally made-up facts are true, psychologists have found.
In the study, 100 people were given a general knowledge quiz about personal finance.
They were also shown a list of financial terms which were mostly real.
Mostly. But not all.
In fact, three terms were made up: ‘pre-rated stocks’, ‘fixed-rate deduction’ and ‘annualized credit’.
People who thought they were financial experts were more likely to claim they knew all about these three totally bogus terms.
Ms Stav Atir, the study’s first author, explained:
“The more people believed they knew about finances in general, the more likely they were to overclaim knowledge of the fictitious financial terms.
The same pattern emerged for other domains, including biology, literature, philosophy, and geography.
For instance, people’s assessment of how much they know about a particular biological term will depend in part on how much they think they know about biology in general.”
Even after people were warned that some of the terms were made up, people who thought they were experts still over-estimated their knowledge.
- Geography ‘experts’ said they knew all about ‘Cashmere, Oregon’, despite the city being made up.
- Biology ‘experts’ claimed to know what ‘meta-toxins’ are and what ‘bio-sexual’ means, despite both terms having been invented for the research.
Ms Atir said a little knowledge really can be a dangerous thing:
“Our work suggests that the seemingly straightforward task of judging one’s knowledge may not be so simple, particularly for individuals who believe they have a relatively high level of knowledge to begin with.”
We await research showing that assuming you know nothing turns you into an expert.
The study was published in the journal Psychological Science (Atir et al., 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
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