Confirming what many people have been suspecting all along, a new study says that smug know-it-all people are especially prone to overestimating what they actually know.
The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, focused on people who profess “belief superiority” — or thinking their views are superior to other viewpoints — as it relates to political issues.
Several studies were used for the research. Across six studies and several political topics, people who were high in belief superiority thought that they knew a great deal about these topics.
However, when comparing this perceived knowledge to how much people actually knew, the researchers found that belief-superior people were consistently overestimating their own knowledge.
“Whereas more humble participants sometimes even underestimated their knowledge, the belief superior tended to think they knew a lot more than they actually did,” said the study’s lead author Michael Hall from University of Michigan.
To find out if belief-superior people use superior strategies when seeking out new knowledge, the researchers presented participants with news articles about a political topic and asked them to select which ones they would like to read. Half of the articles supported the participants’ own point of view, whereas the other half challenged their position.
Belief-superior people were significantly more likely than their modest peers to choose information that supported their beliefs. Furthermore, they were aware that they were seeking out biased information – when the researchers asked them what type of articles they had chosen, they readily admitted their bias for articles that supported their own beliefs.
“We thought that if belief-superior people showed a tendency to seek out a balanced set of information, they might be able to claim that they arrived at their belief superiority through reasoned, critical thinking about both sides of the issue,” Hall said.
Instead, the researchers found that these individuals strongly preferred information that supported their views, indicating that they were probably missing out on opportunities to improve their knowledge.
The researchers noted that people also claim belief superiority in a variety of other domains besides politics, such as the environment, religion, relationship conflicts, and even relatively trivial topics such as etiquette and personal preferences.