Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986.

Social scientists often get inspiration from day to day occurrences. They notice something, realize they’ve it seen before, and want to know more about it. So they do research, sometimes observational, sometimes surveys, and now and then both.

Back in the 1970s, two social scientists found they had both noticed how common it was for husbands and wives to bicker over whose turn it was to take out the garbage. So they did a study. They interviewed couples separately. When they compared the percentage the wife claimed she personally took out the garbage and the percentage the husband claimed he personally took out the garbage, the total was more than 100%. The study has been redone many times and total is always more than 100%. The phenomenon is referred to as over-claiming.

This is a different overclaiming than what three out of four people do on their expense reports 

Over-claiming is a psychological term that some define as the degree to which individuals claim to have knowledge about factually nonexistent terms. Most of us over-claim because we remember all the times we took out the garbage but only some of the times our spouse did. 

This goes well beyond garbage

Nicholas Epley, author of Mindwise, decided to put the shoe on the other foot and took a similar look at psychology professors. He asked co-authors of academic papers to estimate what percentage they believed they had contributed to the final result. The total reported contributions were 140%.

Two different researchers decided to see how prevalent over-claiming was among the general public

They devised a survey that asked respondents to rate their level of familiarity with lists of consumer-related items. The survey had 10 categories, each with 15 items. Respondents were instructed to use a 7-point scale that went from I never heard of it to I know it very well. Within each 15-item category, 12 of the items were real and three did not exist. 

Researchers asked people who claimed to have sound financial knowledge to look at a list of terms and concepts and say how familiar they were with each

A dozen were real and the rest were fabricated by the researchers. Real examples included home equity, revolving credit and fixed-rate mortgages. Fake terms included pre-rated stocks, annualized credit, and fixed-rate deduction. How many participants do you think claimed to be familiar with at least one of the three non-existent financial concepts? 93%.

Researchers asked people who claimed to be experts in United States geography to look at a list

More than 90% of geography experts said they were familiar with Lake Othello, Wisconsin, Cashmere, Oregon, and Monroe, Montana. None of these towns exist. 

Uno más: More than 90% people said they are familiar with retroplex, meta-toxins and bio-sexual, more terms that do not exist.

The general idea is that practically everyone is vulnerable to over-claiming about practically everything

Everyone gets that. What many overlook is that if people will consistently claim to know fake things, what stops them from making false claims about real things they know nothing about? This is one of the real big problems with most surveys, but that’s another story.

Many years ago I knew a working couple who made a rule that the person who puts the last piece of garbage in the kitchen trash can has to take it out. At first they made a game of it by piling it higher and higher, claiming they hadn’t filled it. It was an amusement for a while that grew into open hostility that was an embarrassment to visitors. 

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