According to author David Robson, we're not always as smart as we think we are.
Psychological research suggests that greater intelligence, education and expertise might actually amplify our errors.
Why Smart People Do Stupid Things?
1. Cognitive Miserliness
Consider this question.
How many animals of each species did Moses take on the ark?
The answer, of course, is zero.
It was Noah, not Moses, who was supposed to have built the ark.
But many intelligent people get this wrong.
They are cognitive misers, they are capable of intelligent reasoning but they don't apply that brain power effectively, instead relying too much on their gut feelings.
Cognitive miserliness can cause us to be swayed by irrelevant information and our own feelings.
For example, leading us to poor financial decisions when buying a house.
It can also explain why apparently intelligent people can fall for fake news if they rely too much on the gist rather than the details of a statement.
2. Motivated Reasoning
Sometimes, thanks to the emotional pull of an argument, we think in a very one-sided manner.
So Arthur Conan Doyle is the perfect example of motivated reasoning.
Now he was obviously an incredibly intelligent man—he was a doctor and also wrote all of the Sherlock Holmes books where he really shows a very clear understanding of what logical deduction should be.
But in his own private life, Arthur Conan Doyle was not nearly so rational.
He had a very strong emotional belief in spiritualism and often visited fraudulent mediums.
Now, Arthur Conan Doyle's friends—which included Harry Houdini the illusionist—often tried to persuade him that he was wrong and to show him the evidence that he was being scammed by these people, but Arthur Conan Doyle just didn't believe their arguments.
So, for instance, he would try to bring in the latest physics on the electromagnetic field to explain how fairies might exist but just appeared in another wavelength.
You may not believe in fairies but motivated reasoning can lead to polarized political views.
It may also allow you to rationalise poor business ventures or a failing love affair.
3. The Curse of Expertise
You may hope that education or professional expertise would protect you from error but these can also backfire.
After years of experience in a job, experts for instance, might begin to act on autopilot and that automatic decision-making can sometimes miss vital information.
This may explain a terrible case from 2004, when a man called Brandon Mayfield was accused of conducting the Madrid bombings.
Now, Brandon Mayfield had not left the USA during that time and yet the FBI's fingerprint examiners still accused him of the crime.
The Spanish police had found a fingerprint on a plastic bag near the scene of the crime.
Now the FBI had put that into their computers and they had found about 20 candidates who might have made the match.
And when they looked at Brandon Mayfield's, they were sure that they were identical.
Yet, when you look at the fingerprints, there are actually some very important differences that they had completely missed, but thanks to the curse of expertise they were susceptible to confirmation bias.
So they only saw the bits that matched and were completely blind to the bits that didn't match.
4. The Too-Much-Talent Effect
Sometimes smart people can act stupidly thanks to the people who are around us.
A sense of conflict and competition within a group can actually reduce each team member's problem-solving skills and creativity.
Even just one or two arrogant team members can completely ruin the group dynamic and reduce the performance of the whole team.
One study found that people's individual IQ levels actually drop when they feel in competition with others.
Just think of Iceland's victory in the 2016 Euro Championships.
Now Iceland is a tiny country compared to the rest of Europe, it really doesn't have a huge pool of talent, and yet they performed extraordinarily well and in fact they humiliated the England football team by defeating them despite all of our really top-tier players.
Now this is an example of the too-much-talent-effect.
Because England with so many star players really struggled to have a cohesive group dynamic, there were too many egos vying for attention.
Luckily, there are things that you can do to avoid these thinking traps.
For example, you can try arguing against yourself.
Consider your initial gut reaction and then deliberately try to think from the opposite point of view.
Another technique you can use is called self-distancing.
Step out of your shoes for a second and think about your issue from an outside perspective.
Or you might try mental time travel.
Imagine yourself in a month or a year's time, looking back at your decision.
Lastly, why not try fine-tuning your emotional awareness.
Being able to label our feelings helps us to control them.
Various studies have shown that this simple technique has actually reduced emotional responses and made people less biased.
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