What know-it-alls don’t know

Know-it-alls can be insufferable, and now there’s new evidence that they know less than they’d have you believe. Researchers from Cornell and Tulane universities found that self-proclaimed experts are more prone to “overclaiming”—essentially, pretending to have extensive knowledge of something they’re clueless about. In the study, 100 volunteers were asked to rate their level of knowledge in various subjects, such as biology, literature, and personal finance. When quizzed on 15 different economic terms, the people who fancied themselves financial gurus were far more likely to claim they were familiar with phenomena such as “pre-rated stocks” and “fixed-rate deduction” that were actually complete fictions. Tests on the other topics revealed similar results—even when participants were warned that some terms would be phony. “Our work suggests that the seemingly straightforward task of judging one’s knowledge may not be so simple,” researcher Stav Atir tells Science Daily, “particularly for individuals who believe they have a relatively high level of knowledge to begin with.”

The Week Magazine, August 7, 2015