11 Aug 2022, 14:59 — 5 min read
In 1990, Elizabeth Newton, a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University, did a study to check how confident people were about communicating some message to someone and how successful they were in getting the message across to the recipient.
In the study, Elizabeth Newton divided the participants into two groups — tappers and listeners. Each tapper was then paired with a listener and asked to tap out the rhythm of simple songs like “Happy Birthday” “Old McDonald” on the table. The listeners were then asked to guess the name of the song. However, before the listener could guess the song, the tappers were asked to predict the likelihood of the listener identifying the song correctly. The tappers said they expected the listeners would recognise the songs about half of the time. The actual results, though, were way off the mark. Of the 120 songs tapped, the listeners could guess only three songs correctly. The tappers expected a 50% percent success rate, whereas the reality was 2.5%.
Once we know something—the melody of a song or some other form of knowledge—we find it hard to imagine not knowing it. Our communication assumes the other person knows what we know. We are 'cursed' by the knowledge.
So, what was happening here? Why were the tappers so off the mark in their estimate?
This experiment famously led to the popularisation of the term 'Curse of Knowledge'. In conveying the song through the tapping, the tappers could listen to the melody in their heads. Unfortunately, the listeners had no clue about the tune playing out in the tapper’s head.
Once we know something—the melody of a song or some other form of knowledge—we find it hard to imagine not knowing it. We, therefore, struggle to share what we know with others because we have forgotten how it is not to know the song or the knowledge. Our communication assumes the other person knows what we know. We are 'cursed' by the knowledge.
The curse of knowledge plays out in many situations in our day-to-day life.
Becoming aware of this bias has helped me become more self-aware about how I communicate. There are three care points I try to take in all my messaging.
You want to get better at communicating your ideas and persuading others better. Beware of your curse of knowledge. It can derail you in insidious ways.
Also read: Substance over style
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Posted byPramod Veturi
Global leader with experience managing core banking functions with proven track record of delivering business transformation and growth.