Decisions about ignorance: Knowing that you don't know

Sam Glucksberg, Michael McCloskey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Considers the question of how a person decides that he or she does not know something. It is argued that a person who is asked a question first conducts a preliminary search of memory to locate any stored information that may be relevant. If nothing relevant is found, a rapid "don't-know" (DK) response is made. If, however, potentially relevant facts are retrieved, they are examined in detail to determine whether they specify an answer to the question. If the retrieved information fails to provide an answer, a slow DK response is made. Three experiments involving 29 undergraduates are presented in support of this model. Exp I, in which Ss learned sentences and then made true/false/DK responses to test items, demonstrated that DK decisions can be made quickly and accurately when no relevant information is known. Exp II showed that storing in memory the information that one does not know a fact slows decisions that one does not know the fact. Exp III indicated that DK responses to questions concerning real-world knowledge can be made more quickly when no relevant facts are known. Theoretical issues regarding DK decisions are discussed. (24 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-325
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1981
Externally publishedYes


  • knowledge of relevant facts, RT for "don't know" decisions, college students

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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