Overestimation of Knowledge About Word Meanings: The “Misplaced Meaning” Effect



Children and adults may not realize how much they depend on external sources in understanding word meanings. Four experiments investigated the existence and developmental course of a “Misplaced Meaning” (MM) effect, wherein children and adults overestimate their knowledge about the meanings of various words by underestimating how much they rely on outside sources to determine precise reference. Studies 1 and 2 demonstrate that children and adults show a highly consistent MM effect, and that it is stronger in young children. Study 3 demonstrates that adults are explicitly aware of the availability of outside knowledge, and that this awareness may be related to the strength of the MM effect. Study 4 rules out general overconfidence effects by examining a metalinguistic task in which adults are well calibrated.