Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Intelligence v. Street Smarts

"Against stupidity the very gods themselves contend in vain."
~ Friedrich Schiller

The other day a Twitter link led Divinipotent Daily to a fascinating article published last summer in the University of Toronto's UT Magazine. The title: "Why Smart People Do Stupid Things."

All of us, including the true brainiacs among us, do boneheaded things sometimes; but let's be honest, some very smart people engage in nincompoopery a lot more often than others. Consider brainy friends who gamble or suffer from addictions or people with advanced degrees who deny evolution. Now a UT adjunct professor named Keith Stanovich has proposed this explanation: intelligence and rationality are two different things. Said another way, being smart has little to do with the ability to make rational decisions.

"Dysrationalia" is the name Professor Stanovich has given to the pea-brained behavior of the intelligent. The article offers a wealth of examples of dysrationalia in action, and some may be uncomfortably familiar. Thankfully, it also points out that rational thinking is a skill that can be taught. I encourage everyone to read "Why Smart People Do Stupid Things" — and don't skip the comments.

Bonus round: the article includes a link to a five-question quiz that purports to test your rationality. Having taken it and done rather well, thank you, I am not convinced that the questions are really testing what they claim. Try it and see what you think.

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