Curse Of Knowledge (cognitive Bias): What It Is And How It Affects Us

Curse of knowledge

Cognitive biases are a type of psychological effect that causes us to deviate from reason and make irrational or inaccurate judgments. There are many of them, but here we will focus on one of them: the curse of knowledge

As we will see, this bias means that we often explain things assuming that the recipients of the message have more information than they really have.

In this article we will explain how this bias has been studied and what other cognitive biases it is related to. We will also see what its consequences are (especially in the educational field) and how we can act to stop it and promote deeper learning and understanding in our listeners.

Curse of knowledge (cognitive bias): what is it?

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that appears when a person who communicates with another person, without realizing it, assumes that the other or others have the necessary background (at the level of information) to understand what is being explained to them. .

That is, this person It assumes that the people who are listening to it have more information than they have really.

To better understand the effect of the curse of knowledge, let’s take an example. Let’s imagine a teacher who must explain a topic to students who are beginners in that topic; That is, to students who really have no knowledge of the subject, and said teacher has difficulties doing so, because he is not able to put himself in their place.

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As a result, he explains things assuming that the students already have prior knowledge of the topic.


What consequences does the curse of knowledge have? For a start, that the people who receive the information do not understand what is being explained to them but also that misunderstandings occur, that we feel “silly” as students, that we feel that we were not listening carefully enough, etc.

As for the person who falls into the curse of knowledge (for example, the teacher), he may assume that what he is explaining is easy to understand, clear and direct, although it really is not.

Thus, both for the one who explains and for the one who receives or listens, interference occurs and all this can lead to poor instruction (in the educational field), but also to misunderstandings in the more social field (for example in a conversation between friends).


How did the cognitive bias of the curse of knowledge arise? Curiously, It is a concept that does not come from psychology, but was coined by three economists: Colin Camerer, George Loewenstein and Martin Weber.

These economists published their contributions in relation to this concept in the Journal of Political Economy. Specifically, the objective of their research was to prove that agents working in the field of economic analysis, and who had more information, could more accurately anticipate the judgment of less informed agents.

Research: Hindsight Bias

The research of these economists was based on another work, this time carried out by Baruch Fischhoff an American researcher, in 1975.

What Fischhoff had investigated was another cognitive bias, this time called “hindsight bias,” according to which when we know the outcome of a certain event, we think that we could have predicted it more easily than if we had not known that outcome.

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That is to say, it is something quite irrational, since according to the hindsight bias, We would tend to think that we could have predicted things just by knowing their result previously

Furthermore, all of this occurs quite unconsciously, and according to Fischhoff’s results, the participants in his research did not know that their knowledge regarding the final result could affect their answers (and if they did know, they could not ignore the effects of hindsight bias).

A question of empathy?

But how is the curse of knowledge related to this new cognitive bias? Basically, in this research by Fischhoff, it was observed how participants could not correctly reconstruct their previous and less informed states This relates directly to the curse of knowledge, but how?

To understand it in simpler words, what Fischhoff said was that when we have knowledge about some topic or about some result, it is difficult to imagine how another person who really does not have said information thinks, since our mental state is “anchored” in the state. initial (retrospective) that knows the results.

So, in a way, the effect of the curse of knowledge also has to do with a lack of empathy, at least on a cognitive level, since we are incapable of putting ourselves in the place of the “non-knowing” person because we have settled in our state, which is that of a “knowledgeable” person (who has the information).


How is this cognitive phenomenon “applied” in daily life? We have seen how the cognitive bias of the curse of knowledge appears in areas such as education, but also in others: in our most social sphere, for example, when we interact in our daily lives with other people

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Thus, when we talk to other people, we often assume that they will understand what we explain to them because they have a prior base of information that, in reality, they do not have. This can cause interference in communication, and even generate misunderstandings.

In the field of education, as we already saw, it can also happen; so that, How to teach students without the phenomenon of the curse of knowledge interfering with their learning?

Basically, putting ourselves in their shoes, and starting from their initial state of information on the subject. This may sound simple but it is not. It requires practice and an important exercise in “cognitive empathy.”

To do this, we can try to go back to the origin, that is, to the moment in which we, as teachers, did not have this information either. From this, the objective will be to explain from the base, without consciously presupposing that the student knows more than he really knows.

How to stop the curse of knowledge?

We have seen some ways to avoid the curse of knowledge, but since we find it an interesting and very practical issue in the educational field, above all, we are going to delve into this point.

Professor Christopher Reddy proposes several guidelines to avoid falling into this bias and promote more effective learning in the students. Let’s get to know these guidelines in a very summary way. How do we teach so that learning is deeper and lasting?