People Who Claim to Be Experts Fall For Made-Up Facts More Easily, New Study Shows

We all know that people who act like they're "experts" on something are annoying, but the good news is that they're probably pretty easy to mess with. According to a new study, people who "overclaim" about their expertise are more likely to fall for made-up "facts". This presents so much opportunity for learning how to get through terrible first dates, doesn't it? Here's how the study went down:

The Study:

As part of the study, researchers at Cornell and Tulane conducted several experiments. In the first, they asked over 100 participants to rate their knowledge of finance in general and then presented them with a list of 15 finance terms and asked them to rate how familiar they were with each. However, three of the terms were fake. In one of the experiments, the participants were told that some of the terms were made up, while in others they were not.

In a second experiment, researchers instead focused on geographic knowledge. They designed two tests, one meant to make takers more confident in their geography knowledge and one intended to make them feel less secure about their geographic knowledge; meanwhile, a third group took no test at all. The participants were then asked to rate their familiarity with various cities — including some that didn't exist.

The Results:

You can probably see where this is going. In the finance experiments, people who rated their knowledge of finance as high were more likely to claim familiarity with made-up terms — something which was true even when participants were told that some of the terms on the list were fake. Similarly, in the geography experiments, people who took the test that inflated their opinion of their geographic knowledge were more likely to claim familiarity with places that didn't exist.

The Takeaways:

According to the researchers, these findings suggest that once people consider themselves to be experts on something they actually stop learning about it because we're so busy trying to look like we already know everything and are thus more likely to "overclaim" than to ask questions that might further our knowledge. Which is unfortunate.

However, this also means that annoying, self-styled experts are easy to mess with: All you have to do is make up some relevant facts or figures and watch them just blithely accept it and look like an idiot without knowing. Not that I am advocating this as your go-to approach for otherwise nice people, of course. I'm just saying that there are some first dates when you have to get through the meal somehow, so you may as well have a little fun while you're doing it.

And at the end of the day, try to remember: it's better to admit you don't know something, ask a question, and learn something new than it is to pretend you know everything and remain ignorant.

Image: miz_ginevra/Flickr; Giphy