First Amendment Knowledge and Competence in United States Residents

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Lacking adequate knowledge about one's rights could inhibit the likelihood of exercising one's rights or lead one to unwittingly violate laws that place legitimate limits on these rights. Thus, the present research examines First Amendment knowledge as well as competence to apply this knowledge in relevant circumstances. Results revealed that one-quarter of participants failed a test of objective knowledge on First Amendment rights. Furthermore, participants' belief in their ability varied depending on their level of knowledge, in line with the Dunning–Kruger effect. Participants also failed to transfer their limited objective knowledge to “real-world” situations, exhibiting impaired First Amendment competence. These findings suggest that US residents' levels of knowledge and competence related to First Amendment rights and protections could be improved to promote a safe, knowledgeable, and democratic society


Bernstein, K. M.,† & Najdowski, C. J. (Advanced online publication). First Amendment knowledge and competence in U.S. residents. Behavioral Sciences & the Law. DOI: 10.1002/bsl.2516

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