ARTICLE: Incomprehensible news create “illusions of knowledge”

Untitled by Tania Dimas, licence CC0 1.0

People with low need for cognition (NFC) will feel more knowledgeable after reading an incomprehensible news article than after reading a comprehensible article, Mathias Weber and Christina Koehler, both of Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, discovered. The authors conducted an online experiment with 82 Germans.

The participants read one of two versions of the same news article about the so-called Eurozone crisis. One of the versions was manipulated to be “incomprehensible” by using abbreviations and technical terms without proper explanation. The comprehensible version, on the other hand, explained the concepts in lay terms.

Afterwards, the participants were surveyed over how confident they felt of their knowledge on the subject, and of their personality traits. The participants who like cognitive challenges felt they knew more after reading the comprehensible article. Conversely, low NFC participants felt more confident after reading the incomprehensible article – effectively falling under an “illusion of knowledge”, the authors describe.

People with high NFC enjoy mental processing and they will more readily take in all available information. Low NFC individuals, on the other hand, will need some additional motivation to internalize information, Weber and Koehler suggest, for example by adding entertainment.

The article “Illusions of Knowledge” was published by the International Journal of Communication. It is freely available online on the journal’s website (open access).

Picture: Untitled by Tania Dimas, licence CC0 1.0.

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