Beware Self-Perceived Experts

Problem

Someone in your life has no shortage of advice on your health, finances, children, lawn-are regimen, vacation plans . . .

Reality

Maybe that person really is an expert at something, but if they call themselves an expert, they’re more likely to pretend to know things that they don’t, according to a study published in Psychological Science.

Method

In one experiment, one hundred participants had to rate their knowledge of personal finance and their knowledge of fifteen financial terms. Most of those terms were real (e.g., home equity), but three terms on the list were made up (pre-rated stocks, fixed-rate deduction, and annualized credit).

In another experiment, the same model was used, although this time the subject was biology and participants were warned that some terms on the test might be made up. (For your entertainment: bio-sexual, meta-toxins).

In a third experiment, this time using geography, the participants’ sense of knowledge mastery was manipulated with a quiz. One third took a very easy quiz on iconic US cities, one third took a quiz on very obscure US cities, and one third took no quiz. Then, the participants had to rate their familiarity with a list of mostly real, but some fake, US cities.

Results

The more people say and feel like they’re experts, the more they’re likely to claim that they know about things the researchers made up.

In the first and second experiments, people who said they had high levels of knowledge about finance and biology were more likely to say they recognised the made up terms that people who were a bit more modest.

The third experiment is the really interesting one, though, as it was the people who took the easy test who ended up claiming to know more about US geography. They were more likely than the other two groups to say they had knowledge of non-existent cities like Cashmere, Oregon.

The Takeaway

First thing: be careful about claiming that you’re an expert. Have a higher degree? Years of experience? Well, those things might end up making you feel more confident than you should be.

Second thing: beware an expert. If someone tells you something, they should have a fact to back it up. For example, I’m no expert in psychology, which is why I rely on studies done by real experts (and then always link to said studies) when I talk about it. If someone’s only reason for saying something is their expertise, maybe it’s time for a second opinion.


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