The Science of Cycology: Our Overconfidence in How Things Work
The difference between knowing how to work something and how it works..
Introduction (Via Rebecca Lawson)
I work as a cognitive psychologist at the University of Liverpool and I investigate how we recognise everyday objects in our world. Recent research indicates that we may be deluded into thinking that we know more about objects in our world than we really do. Kevin O’Regan has suggested that we may use the world as an “outside memory” to save us from having to store huge amounts of information. Since this information can usually be found simply by moving our eyes, we do not need to retrieve it from our brains. In 2002, Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil argued that, in particular, we overestimate our ability to explain how things work – whether artefacts like greenhouses and bicycles, or natural phenomena like tides and rainbows. They suggested that this illusion of explanatory depth is especially severe for objects with visible parts. Rozenblit and Keil’s conclusions were based only on people’s self-ratings of the quality of their explanations. I wanted to extend their work to measure how accurate people’s explanations really are, to see how well people understand how everyday objects work. The bicycle is an obvious choice to test this.