Wednesday, 5 January 2011

What intelligence tests miss

Critical reasoning - Part 1

“What intelligence tests miss” is the title of a book by Grawemeyer Award Winner Keith E. Stanovich. He was asking himself the question why smart, i.e. intelligent, people act foolishly, for example, why they make financial decisions that cause them to lose a lot of money. He sees the reason for this in the fact that classical IQ tests just measure one aspect of cognitive functioning, but leave other important aspects out. One of these aspects is, according to Professor Stanovich, rationality, which comprises acting in a way that you get what you most want and holding beliefs reflect the actual structure of the world. Rationality is crucial in decision making and assessing probabilities, but largely independent of intelligence.

He sees one reason for what he calls “dysrationalia” in the fact that humans are cognitive misers, meaning that they unconsciously try to avoid elaborate cognitive processing whenever possible. For example, when making judgments or decisions, humans rely on heuristics rather than thorough analytical processing. This leads to humans losing a lot of money on the financial markets, being easily influenced by advertisements and being outsmarted when buying products. But not only financial decisions are affected by dysrationalia. Irrational thought also influences decisions in other domains like medicine, state affairs, even personnel selection! Other reasons are, according to Professor Stanovich, the lack of probability knowledge and alternative thinking as well as faulty knowledge and beliefs about the world.

If you are interested in reading the book, it can be found here.

Read more on dysrationalia, how it affects different life domains and how dysrational decisions can be avoided next week.

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