Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Reducing People's Judgment Bias about Their Level of Knowledge

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Reducing People's Judgment Bias about Their Level of Knowledge

Article excerpt

Two experiments were conducted to replicate and extend previous findings which indicated that judgment bias about the extent of one's own knowledge can be decreased by a de-biasing technique called counterfactual reasoning, that is, having people consider why their answers to questions may be wrong. The results of the two experiments confirm the effectiveness of this technique to decrease bias, by statistically controlling for important variables. The results extend previous findings about its effectiveness, by showing that counterfactual reasoning (a) reduced bias on knowledge questions about a specific subject area and (b) reduced bias on both hard and easy test questions. In addition, the two experiments establish that bias and test performance are inversely related, and a theoretical connection between this relationship and the ubiquitous hard/easy effect in bias research is offered. The results are discussed in terms of decision-making processes and the potentially detrimental effects of bias on test pe rformance and learning in general.

Numerous studies have found that people tend to be poor judges of the extent of their own level of knowledge when asked general knowledge or other kinds of questions. For example, several studies have found that people overestimate their understanding of material they have just read (Morris, 1990; Pressley & Ghatala, 1988, 1990), whereas others have found that people overestimate the accuracy of their answers to general knowledge questions about geography, history, literature, science, sports, and so forth (Adams & Adams, 1961; Bradley, 1981; Fischhoff, Slovic, & Lichtenstein, 1977). This tendency to be overconfident about the accuracy of one's answers extends to spatial judgments (Schraw & Roedel, 1994), matching synonyms and antonyms (Pressley & Ghatala, 1988), and other kinds of tasks (Lichtenstein & Fischhoff, 1977). As Fischhoff et al. (1977, p. 552) said, people are "wrong too often when they are certain they are right."

People's confidence about their level of knowledge is usually measured by having them rate how sure they are of their answers to questions. Often, this is done by having people assign scores between 0% and 100% (Adams & Adams, 1961; Schraw & Roedel, 1994; Zakay & Glicksohn, 1992), with 100% representing their subjective probability or belief that they are "completely confident" of the answer to the question (Zakay & Glicksohn, 1992). Similar subjective probability scales have been used to measure how certain people are they will engage in different kinds of behavior in the future (Flannelly, Flannelly, & McLeod, 1998; Flannelly & McLeod, 1991; Vallone, Griffin, Lin, & Ross, 1990).

The correspondence between people's subjective statements of confidence and their objective performance on a test is called "calibration" by many authors (e.g., Bjorkman, 1992; Lichtenstein & Fischhoff, 1977, 1980; Schraw & Roedel, 1994). People are said to be well-calibrated if their confidence in their performance equals their actual performance on a series of test questions. Persons are said to show bias (overconfidence or underconfidence) to the degree that confidence diverges from actual performance.

Bias in terms of overconfidence in the correctness of one's judgments (i.e., an unwarranted belief in being correct) has been consistently found on forced-choice and multiple-choice tests (Pressley & Ghatala, 1988, 1990; Pressley, Ghatala, Woloshyn, & Pine, 1990; Zakay & Glicksohn, 1992). While most research has focused on overconfidence, people may exhibit underconfidence, instead of overconfidence, depending on the difficulty of the questions asked. A "hard-easy" effect has been found, in which people are underconfident that their answers to easy questions are correct and overconfident that their answers to hard questions are correct (Yates, Lee, & Shinotsuka, 1996). Although this effect was originally reported by Lichtenstein and Fischhoff (1977), it was not the focus of much research until recently (Pulford & Colman, 1997; Schraw & Roedel, 1994; Suantak, Bolger, & Ferrell, 1996; Yates et al. …

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