Human Intelligence

When studying human talent, the temptation is usually to concentrate on the upper reaches. Understandably so: we all admire the Einsteins and Mozarts of this world and aspire to emulate them. In comparison, studying the opposite end of the spectrum might seem pointless, patronizing or downright tasteless. Lack of intelligence is stigmatized enough without treating people like lab rats. Yet it often takes an oblique viewpoint to find new insights into an old problem. Stupidity is too important and interesting to ignore. The science of stupidity is producing results that challenge our concepts of intelligence and that should be humbling for many of the smart people who run the world. It turns out that a tendency for entertaining rash, foolish or illogical ideas is not necessarily the result of a low IQ. This measure of intelligence is largely independent of rationality.

Just because you score on the high end of one scale doesn't mean that you won't fall at the bottom of the other. Importantly, no one is immune to the biases that lead to stupid decisions. Yet our reverence for IQ and education means that it is easy to rest on the laurels of our qualifications and assume that we are, by definition, not stupid. That can be damaging on a personal level: regardless of IQ, people who score badly on rationality tests are more likely to have unplanned pregnancies or fall into serious debt. Large-scale stupidity is even more damaging. Business cultures that inadvertently encourage it, for example, may have contributed to the economic crisis. Indeed, the effects may have been so damaging precisely because banks assumed that intelligent people act logically while at the same time rewarding rash behavior based on intuition rather than deliberation. As one researcher puts it: "The more intelligent someone is, the more disastrous the results of their stupidity".

 

The same surely applies to politicians: the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq serves as a reminder that clever people can do monumentally stupid things.


Kemo D. 7

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