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The Disparity Between What We Know and How We Communicate


Research has demonstrated that people systematically overrate their knowledge, intelligence, and skills in various domains. Confronting people with evidence of their miscalibration, however, causes them to reassess these claims. For example, simply asking people to explain how a sewing machine works leads them to subsequently report understanding it less—a bias called the illusion of explanatory depth (Rozenblit & Keil, 2002). While previous work argues that this process is domain-bound, we demonstrate in several experiments that the bias to inflate subjective knowledge is attenuated not only by explanations of the focal item itself but also by explanations of other, entirely different things, implying the existence of a more parsimonious, domain-agnostic process for this bias. We then show that the illusion of explanatory depth holds for difficult, but not easy, explanations.

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