People in Italy are the most likely to be wrong about basic facts related to their country, closely followed by Americans.
That's one of the findings of a new book based on 50,000 interviews carried out in 13 countries.
The Perils of Perception: Why We're Wrong About Nearly Everything says that people know much less about the world around them than they think they do.
For example, when people in the US were asked what proportion of the population is Muslim, the average guess was 16.6%, while in reality the answer is 1%.
Following Italy and the US on the "misperceptions index" are France, Australia, Belgium, Canada, and Spain. Out of the 13 countries, Poland is ranked eighth and Britain ninth, while the "least wrong" countries are Japan, South Korea, Germany, and — least wrong of all — Sweden.
The book's author, Bobby Duffy, managing director of the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute, told BuzzFeed News that there's not one single reason to explain why Italy and the US are the "most wrong" countries. And he says blaming politicians and the media for misleading people is too easy an answer.
However, Duffy acknowledges that we are in a “really dangerous period for misperceptions” because of the role of social media and other online sources of information in people’s lives, particularly when it comes to confirmation biases — where people look for information that confirms already held views.
Measuring misperceptions, Duffy says, is important as it shows what people are worried about, as people’s emotions play a huge role in their estimates. It also reveals areas where we’re not worried enough, such as public health.
But people should not feel bad about their own misperceptions, he says.
"It’s personally exhausting to think everything is terrible and getting worse — but it’s also dangerous, because it leaves space for extremists to get the message out that given everything is terrible, we should tear it all up and start again. So we should fight that — start by thinking the world is better than you think!"