Smart Folk Often Full of Crap, Study Finds

The multidisciplinarian:

For most of us, there is a large gap between what we know and what we think we know. We hold a level of confidence about our factual knowledge and predictions that doesn’t match our abilities. Since our personal decisions are really predictions about the future based on our available present knowledge, it makes sense to work toward adjusting our confidence to match our skill.

Last year I measured the knowledge-confidence gap of 3500 participants in a trivia game with a twist. For each True/False trivia question the respondents specified their level of confidence (between 50 and 100% inclusive) with each answer. The questions, presented in banks of 10, covered many topics and ranged from easy (American stop signs have 8 sides) to expert (Stockholm is further west than Vienna).

I ran this experiment on a website using 1500 True/False questions, about half of which belonged to specific categories including music, art, current events, World War II, sports, movies and science. Visitors could choose between the category “Various” or from a specific category. I asked for personal information such as age, gender current profession, title, and education. About 20% of site visitors gave most of that information. 30% provided their professions.

Participants were told that the point of the game was not to get the questions right but to have an appropriate level of confidence. For example, if a your average confidence value is 75%, 75% of their your answers should be correct. If your confidence and accuracy match, you are said to be calibrated. Otherwise you are either overconfident or underconfident. Overconfidence – sometime extreme – is more common, though a small percentage are significantly underconfident.