Knowing what you don’t know: Does explaining a science article affect Individuals’ assessment of their own and scientists’ knowledge?

Author: Nina Vaupotic – University of Münster, Germany


  • Regina Jucks – University of Münster, Germany
  • Dorothe Kienhues – University of Münster, Germany

Online media has become the main source of information for laypeople wishing to inform themselves about science (Su et al., 2015). However, knowledge nowadays is highly specialised and often too difficult to fully understand without lengthy (academic) education (Bromme & Goldman, 2014). Online science information is therefore usually written in a simplified and easily comprehensible manner, which could give laypeople an unrealistic confidence in dealing with the respective scientific topic (Scharrer et al., 2012).

The present experimental study wished to investigate how individuals assess their own and scientists’ knowledge about a scientific topic before and after engaging with an online science article in one of the two ways: reading or reading and explaining. Altogether, 168 adults were asked to read an online science news article about algorithmic predictions of severe weather events. Afterwards, half of the participants were additionally asked to give an explanation to a friend who knows nothing about the topic.

Before and after engaging with the science article, participants assessed scientists’ knowledge to be significantly higher than theirs (F(1,167)= 479.1, p < .001). After engaging with the science topic in either of the two ways, participants assessed their own knowledge as well as the scientists’ knowledge as significantly higher than beforehand ((F(1,167)= 121.9, p < .001)). The type of engagement (reading vs. reading and explaining) did not differentially influence participants’ own knowledge assessments, however, the gap between the assessment of own knowledge and scientists’ knowledge was significantly larger when participants additionally explained what they had read ((F(1,167)= 8.359, p = .004)). The explanations given by the participants often contained factual information and were written in a summarizing manner. Our results give some insights into laypeople’ s perception of their own knowledge position in a world in which knowledge is difficult to understand but easy to access. The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Transformation