Humans fail to fully understand the world around them and to recognize their limited understanding. The illusion of explanatory depth (IOED) exemplifies these failures: people believe they understand the world more than they actually do and only realize the illusory nature of this belief when they attempt to explain phenomena. An unexplored factor of the IOED is how people may become overconfident by confusing their own understanding with others’ understanding. In three experiments, I compared the IOED in devices, where it is typically examined, with mental health, a domain where society has a more limited understanding. In Experiment 1, I demonstrate that laypeople believe society understands mental health less than devices and that people demonstrate a smaller IOED in mental health than in devices. Experiment 2 shows that explanation is necessary for the illusion to be revealed in mental health. Finally, Experiment 3 suggests that explicitly describing others’ understanding as limited eliminates the illusion. Implications for meta-cognition and for mental health are discussed.
Zeveney, Andrew S., "Illusion of Understanding in a Misunderstood Field: The Illusion of Explanatory Depth in Mental Disorders" (2016). Donald T. Campbell Social Science Research Prize. 40.