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The illusion of knowing: Failure in the self-assessment of comprehension


The illusion of knowing is the belief that comprehension has been attained when, in fact, comprehension has failed. In the present experiment, the illusion was defined operationally as having occurred when readers who failed to find a contradiction in a text rated their comprehension of the text as high. Texts containing contradictions between adjacent sentences were presented, and readers were explicitly asked to search for contradictions. The frequency of illusions was greater when the contradictory sentences came at the end of three-paragraph texts rather than at the end of one-paragraph texts and when the contradictory information was syntactically marked as new. These results are interpreted within a framework that emphasizes that the goal of reading expository text is to establish coherence within and among sentences. In addition, the results are apparently incompatible with the notion that readers engage in active and accurate on-line monitoring of the degree to which this goal is met.

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This research was funded in part by a grant from the Spencer Foundation to the School of Education of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and by the National Institute of Education Grant NIE-G-81-0009 to the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Institute of Education or the Department of Education.

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Glenberg, A.M., Wilkinson, A.C. & Epstein, W. The illusion of knowing: Failure in the self-assessment of comprehension. Mem Cogn 10, 597–602 (1982).

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  • Expository Text
  • American Citizen
  • Contradictory Information
  • Exportable Good
  • Foreign Demand