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Are You Suffering From the Curse of Knowledge?

Are You Suffering From the Curse of Knowledge?

Have you ever tried explaining the concept of neuroplasticity to a novice? No? Then, have you ever tried explaining how intermittent fasting works to someone who just couldn’t get it? You know, you tell your friend how insulin levels drop, the body eventually shifts to a state of ketosis and starts using fatty acids as its main source of energy instead of glucose, and how this gradually decreases body fat percentage…

But still your friend doesn’t seem to quite get it.

Why is this?

It’s because you suffer from the curse of knowledge.

What is the Curse of Knowledge?

You are suffering from the curse of knowledge when you know things that the other person does not and you have forgotten what it’s like to not have this knowledge. This makes it harder for you to identify with the other person’s situation and explain things in a manner that is easily understandable to someone who is a novice.

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When you suffer from the curse of knowledge you assume that other people know the things that you do, and this cognitive bias causes you to believe that people understand you a lot better than they really do.

In a famous psychological experiment, a group of subjects was divided in two: tappers and listeners. The tappers were asked to think of a song and try to rhythmically tap the song on a table, while the listeners were asked to listen and figure out which song the tappers were tapping along to.

The tappers were 50% certain that the listeners would be able to identify the song they had had in mind while tapping, but the results of the experiment were shocking: only 2.5% of the listeners were able to figure out the song! In other words: the tappers overestimated their success ratio of being understood 20 times above how many times they actually were being understood.

When we suffer from the curse of knowledge, we are like the tappers: just because we know the melody of the song we’re tapping to we inaccurately assume that others will know it too. But often, the other person—the listener—doesn’t draw the same conclusions that we do because this person doesn’t have the same information as we do. In the case of the listeners, they weren’t able to identify the tapping as a song, they only heard a series of discordant tappings.

If we extrapolate these results to communication in general, it means that we think people understand what we’re saying a hell of a lot more often than they actually do—because we’re so used to knowing the things we know that we expect others to know it as well.

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What are the implications?

Let’s have a quick Q&A:

One major implication of the curse of knowledge is that the right people aren’t being listened to.

Q: What do you mean?

A: I mean that the people who are being listened to usually aren’t those in the best position to give advice. We tend to listen to those people whom we perceive have authority. We use social proof as a means to establish the credibility of these authorities. And often that works well, but not always.

Q: Why doesn’t it always work, and why wouldn’t I want to take the advice of someone who has a clear track record of success?

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A: The reason it doesn’t always work out that well is due to what I call the student-master dilemma. This dilemma often occurs when a person who is highly skilled in a particular field of knowledge is trying to teach, inform, or instruct beginners about what they should do to get better.

In theory it’s a sure thing that you’d want to be instructed by one of these “masters,” but in practice it might not be the best thing because the master tends to suffer from the curse of knowledge.

Q: So what? I would still prefer to have Bill Gates teach me how to get rich over my economics professor.

A: Yes, I probably would, too. But the counterargument would be that Bill Gates is too far removed from the situation of being a student to understand what the next step in your learning curve towards success is. Bill Gates has moved through the competence ladder far too many times to be able to accurately explain to you about all the things that he’s doing that contribute to his overall success.

Q: I see. So you’re saying that due to the curse of knowledge Gates would just assume that I’d know how to start a business, write a business plan, and all of those other fundamental things?

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A: Yes, exactly. Another famous example is that of an extremely successful salesman for IBM who was asked by an interviewer why he was so good at sales, to which he responded, “It’s because I stopped coughing!”

A couple of experts in sales were so confounded by his answer that they decided to examine him more closely. After a while they found that he was actually doing a lot of things really well—he was using a ton of sales tactics brilliantly, he just wasn’t aware of it. He was naturally talented at sales.

The moral of this little story is that the IBM sales guy falsely attributed the reasons for why he was so successful.

So, to go along with the student-master analogy: Would you have the IBM salesman as your master—telling you that you’ll be a successful salesman if you “just stop coughing”—or would you rather have a less successful master who could explain to you exactly what it is that you’re doing wrong and direct you toward the next step in your journey towards success?

I know who I’d choose…

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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