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Do Know-It-Alls Really Know It All?

Do Know-It-Alls Really Know It All?

You’re at a cocktail party just making casual conversation. Then one person chimes in, “oh yes, I’ve been there.” Or, “I know all about that.” Perhaps they do know, or maybe they really don’t but feel compelled to make the claim anyway. So how do you know if a know-it-all really knows what they’re talking about?

Researchers at Cornell University have a term for this behavior – overclaiming. They studied this phenomenon of people who are self-described experts and published the findings in the journal of Psychological Science.

The study revealed that the more people view themselves as an actual “expert” on certain topics, the more likely they are to act like they know all about something that may have been completely fabricated.

One late night TV show has an ongoing comedy segment highlighting the audacity of this type of behavior. They send a camera crew out on the street to ask passersby about completely fabricated subjects like music groups or countries that don’t really exist. Many people respond enthusiastically with their depth of knowledge about these concocted topics.

The Cornell team discovered that even real experts in a particular field like biology may overclaim their knowledge of made-up biologic terms such as “fluidic threshold.” So why do knowledgeable people do this? Is it saving face as a matter of self presentation in conversation? Maybe it is the pressure to live up to the presumption of actual knowledge in a particular field. Perhaps it’s just the brain tricking us to believe things that we don’t really know about.

Listen to this enlightening interview with the Cornell researchers here.

Jeff Edwards