Publication date: Oct 01, 2023
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought an interesting yet worrisome phenomenon to the fore. A segment of the population, which we call the Self-Wise, seems to exhibit an inflated sense of self-expertise relative to domain experts, which – combined with a lack of trust in the latter – leads them to ignore or reject expert advice. We argue and demonstrate that this phenomenon is distinct from other “illusory superiority” phenomena, most notably Dunning-Kruger and Lake Wobegon. Three studies with US participants provide compelling evidence for the existence of the Self-Wise phenomenon. In the context of COVID-19, its behavioral consequences are non-compliance with expert-based COVID-19 guidelines and measures (e. g., wearing a mask and getting vaccinated). The studies also provide insight into additional characteristics of the Self-Wise, which can be used for identification and targeting purposes. We tested the effectiveness of two tailored interventions that aimed at reducing this segment’s “illusory superiority” and (re-)establishing their trust in medical experts. The interventions proved effective in terms of reducing the “illusory superiority” of the Self-Wise, and generally enhanced the participants’ intention to comply with COVID-19 guidelines. However, to substantially change the non-conforming COVID-19 behavior of the Self-Wise likely requires stronger and sustained mitigation strategies or interventions.