Updating false beliefs: The role of misplaced vs. well-placed certainty

Irmak Olcaysoy Okten, Tianshu Huang, Gabriele Oettingen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


People can update their misconceptions or false beliefs by learning from corrective sources. However, research has shown that people vary drastically in the extent to which they learn from feedback and update their false beliefs accordingly. That past work drew attention to cognitive and motivational factors such as cognitive rigidity and closed-mindedness as inhibitors of belief updating. Here we examined a novel epistemic structure, misplaced certainty, a subjective sense of certainty while recognizing uncertainty in oneself or most people (e.g., I feel certain although I recognize X is technically uncertain or it is technically uncertain according to most people), as a unique predictor of lower belief updating. In a preregistered study, we hypothesized that those with high chronic misplaced certainty would be less likely to learn from feedback and revise their misconceptions in a feedback-learning task. In our analyses, we controlled for well-placed certainty—certainty while recognizing no doubt in oneself or most others. We also controlled for variables associated with closed-minded cognition. Consistent with our predictions, those with high misplaced certainty were less likely to revise their false beliefs in response to corrective feedback. In contrast, those with high well-placed certainty were more likely to learn from corrective feedback and revise their false beliefs. By shedding light on the nuances of different forms of subjective certainty, the present work aims to pave the way for further research on epistemic factors in the perseverance and correction of false beliefs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)712-721
Number of pages10
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • Epistemic structure
  • False beliefs
  • Feedback learning
  • Misconceptions
  • Misplaced certainty
  • Subjective certainty
  • Updating
  • Well-placed certainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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