Suffering from... Dysrationality?

How can very clever people be so very thick?

by Helen Kirwan-Taylor, helen@kirwantaylor.com
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The smartest manager you know gets involved in some bogus investment, on which he gambles the ranch. Everyone wonders how someone so clever could do something so stupid. This great mystery - how the clever can be so thick - was finally solved by Professor Keith Stanovich at Toronto University. He'd noticed that highly intelligent people (esteemed professors like himself) were behaving like imbeciles, making hasty and silly business decisions that their less talented peers would avoid. They might also fly off the handle in meetings and go off on tangents, coming across as silly and childish, or routinely see their cars towed away because they've never mastered the parking system. This, says Stanovich, is because IQ has little to do with rational behaviour. We are all 'cognitive misers' who expend as little mental energy as we can on things that don't interest us. So your resident mathematical genius at work gets in trouble with his credit card company. Why? He didn't read the small print. Our brains are there to make us trust our instincts (called 'side bias'), but they can, with practice, be improved. We can try, for example, thinking the opposite of what we normally think. The good news is that the dysrational can learn fresh skills - or hire a business manager.

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