The curse of knowledge

I learned about another cognitive bias this morning – the curse of knowledge. Wikipedia explains.

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that leads better-informed parties to find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed parties. The effect was first described in print by the economists Colin Camerer, George Loewenstein and Martin Weber, though they give original credit for suggesting the term to Robin Hogarth.

…researchers have linked the curse of knowledge bias with false-belief reasoning in both children and adults, as well as theory of mind development difficulties in children. The curse of knowledge bias reportedly decreases in degree for adults versus children, who experience exaggerated effects; however, it was also found that for adults: “knowledge becomes a more potent curse when it can be combined with a rationale (even if only an implicit one) for inflating one’s estimates of what others know”.

This has a lot of applications.


  1. says

    Oh goodness yes.

    We all self-reference as a matter of course. Learning to inhibit our self-reference and allow in other perspectives and even group-independent information contrary to what the group believes is a learned skill. If I had to generalize common manifestations I would say that it looks like pretending that the world is identical to one’s experience of it and that we are all like me.

    This is a bias that I keep posted on my mental mirror as I have particular issues inhibiting self-reference. Good routines (or dare I say customs) help as you get more used to understanding other perspectives as a matter of course.

  2. Matt Penfold says

    I don’t think it is that unreasonable to assume that someone wanting to contribute to a discussion and have their opinions taken seriously have some idea what they are talking about. If nothing else, it is just bad manners to proffer an opinion based on ignorance.

  3. RJW says

    Well, we need to establish which opinion is the ‘better informed’, don’t we?

    For example, some people with arts, law or economics degrees are convinced that they’re better informed than climatologists in regard to climate change.

  4. says

    Yeah, this one bites me in the ass from time to time and it definitely used to be way worse when I was a kid. I found out the hard way that a lot of things I took for granted as common knowledge weren’t so common.

  5. Jenora Feuer says

    This one should be well known to anybody who writes, especially in technical writing… this sort of thing is exactly why writing manuals and other user documentation is always difficult, because if you know enough to know how to describe everything, you also know too much to be able to see it as a new user would see it.

  6. says

    Jenora Feuer, exactly; I can’t count how many times I’ve read a computer-related how-to on the Web that seems to presume a huge amount of background knowledge in would-be readers.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    Somewhat tangential, and picked up second-hand, but still possibly relevant:

    Brunel, the great railroad engineer, claimed that the drivers of trains should be illiterate because only the unlettered man paid attention.

    – Martin Cruz Smith, Rose

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