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Does Anyone Know the Answer to that Question? Individual Differences in Judging Answerability

Journal article
Authors Bodil Karlsson
Carl Martin Allwood
Sandra Buratti
Published in Frontiers in Psychology
Volume 6
Pages no. 2060
ISSN 1664-1078
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Psychology
Pages no. 2060
Language en
Keywords question answerability, judgments, consensus, epistemic beliefs, epistemic preference, optimism, epistemological beliefs, dont know, ignorance, decisions, confidence, knowledge, memory, strategies, judgments, cognition, Psychology
Subject categories Psychology


Occasionally people may attempt to judge whether a question can be answered today, or if not, if it can be answered in the future. For example, a person may consider whether enough is known about the dangers of living close to a nuclear plant, or to a major electricity cable, for them to be willing to do so, and state-authorities may consider whether questions about the dangers of new technologies have been answered, or in a reasonable future can be, for them to be willing to invest money in research aiming develop such technologies. A total of 476 participants, for each of 22 knowledge questions, either judged whether it was answerable today (current answerability), or judged when it could be answered (future answerability). The knowledge questions varied with respect to the expected consensus concerning their answerability: consensus questions (high expected consensus), non-consensus questions (lower expected consensus), and illusion questions (formulated to appear answerable, but with crucial information absent). The questions' judged answerability level on the two scales was highly correlated. For both scales, consensus questions were rated more answerable than the non-consensus questions, with illusion questions falling in-between. The result for the illusion questions indicates that a feeling of answerability can be created even when it is unlikely that somebody can come up with an answer. The results also showed that individual difference variables influenced the answerability judgments. Higher levels of belief in certainty of knowledge, mankind's knowledge, and mankind's efficacy were related to judging the non-consensus questions as more answerable. Participants rating the illusion questions as answerable rated the other answerability questions as more, or equally, answerable compared to the other participants and showed tendencies to prefer a combination of more epistemic default processing and less intellectual processing.

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