Everyone has been guilty of it at some point. You’re in the middle of a conversation about politics or music or art, and someone asks, “Have you heard of…?” And despite your complete lack of knowledge of that band or law or artist, you say, “Sure!” 

As it turns out, the more you know about a subject, the more likely you are to fib when your knowledge falls short, claiming that some factoid rings a bell when, in fact, there are no bells to be rung. A new study published in Psychological Science finds that when people consider themselves experts, they’re more likely to profess understanding of made-up concepts. 

In five different tests, researchers at Cornell University and Tulane University presented fake facts about finance and geography to participants in the lab. Self-professed experts were more likely to claim they were very knowledgeable about concepts and places that didn’t exist. This tendency, called “overclaiming,” occurred even when participants were warned that some of the concepts they were encountering would be fake. 

Our results suggest that people do not simply consult a ‘mental index’ that catalogues their knowledge but instead draw on preexisting self-perceptions of knowledge to make inferences about what they should or probably do know,” the researchers write. It seems there’s some truth to the idea that wisdom is all about knowing what you do not know. 

[h/t: Washington Post]