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Curse of Knowledge definition


The Curse of Knowledge was first studied by economists Camerer, Loewenstein & Weber in 1989. This cognitive bias leads people who are better informed on a subject to find it almost impossible to consider that subject from the point of view of someone who doesn’t know as much about it. This often means that concepts, ideas and information aren’t presented clearly enough because the person presenting it presumes a certain level of knowledge and comprehension from their audience.

Once you know something it is impossible to put that knowledge aside and you also forget that not everyone has the same information as you so will not necessarily see things the same way or understand something as quickly. Psychologist Elisabeth Newton conducted a famous experiment in 1990 whereby participants were divided in to two groups with one group “tapping” well-known songs whilst the other group listened and attempted to identify these songs. The group who were tapping estimated a successful guess rate of at least 50% whilst the outcome was actually only 2.5%. The fact that those who were tapping the songs already knew which song it was – and, of course, could hear this song in their heads whilst tapping – meant that they were biased towards believing the answer was obvious and just couldn’t comprehend how few people would guess incorrectly. Of course the group listening were just hearing a series of discordant and therefore mostly unidentifiable taps.

The implications of this in the commercial world are vast as it is often a well-informed party who sets pricing for an object or service (a wine expert picks and values wine, a dressmaker sets prices for luxury fabrics etc.) and, due to the Curse of Knowledge, they find themselves unable to anticipate how the most likely lesser-informed customer will perceive their valuation. This often leads to high-quality goods being overpriced for the market and low-quality goods being underpriced.

It is also essential to be aware of - and try to counteract - the bias of the Curse of Knowledge in any kind of business communications. Everyone who works for a certain company will have a similar level of knowledge concerning the basic elements of what that company does. However, it is important to remember that the people you are communicating with outside of your company – customers, other businesses, or even other people within the same field – may not necessarily understand certain phrases, systems or ideas. Keeping communications clear and easily comprehensible for everyone is an important factor in making your website and services both accessible and engaging.

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