Science Daily reports (factually) on a UC Berkeley study that reveals how the feedback we get makes us so certain about our wrong beliefs:
“If you think you know a lot about something, even though you don’t, you’re less likely to be curious enough to explore the topic further, and will fail to learn how little you know,” said study lead author Louis Marti, a Ph.D. student in psychology at UC Berkeley.
This cognitive dynamic can play out in all walks of actual and virtual life, including social media and cable-news echo chambers, and may explain why some people are easily duped by charlatans.
“If you use a crazy theory to make a correct prediction a couple of times, you can get stuck in that belief and may not be as interested in gathering more information,” said study senior author Celeste Kidd, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.
For the study, more than 500 adults, recruited online through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing platform, looked at different combinations of colored shapes on their computer screens. They were asked to identify which colored shapes qualified as a “Daxxy,” a make-believe object invented by the researchers for the purpose of the experiment.
With no clues about the defining characteristics of a Daxxy, study participants had to guess blindly which items constituted a Daxxy as they viewed 24 different colored shapes and received feedback on whether they had guessed right or wrong. After each guess, they reported on whether or not they were certain of their answer.
The final results showed that participants consistently based their certainty on whether they had correctly identified a Daxxy during the last four or five guesses instead of all the information they had gathered throughout.
“What we found interesting is that they could get the first 19 guesses in a row wrong, but if they got the last five right, they felt very confident,” Marti said. “It’s not that they weren’t paying attention, they were learning what a Daxxy was, but they weren’t using most of what they learned to inform their certainty.”
An ideal learner’s certainty would be based on the observations amassed over time as well as the feedback, Marti said.