Why Do Smart People Do Stupid Things? There’s Actually A Reason According To Science

Brain fade.

From Bukowski to Raskolnikov, smart people have always had a reputation for screwing up.

And it’s not just fiction: half the world’s tech overlords dropped out of uni, Conor McGregor is the UFC’s smartest fighter, and your smartest amigo probably has a love life that makes The Big Dipper look like an airport travellator.

That’s before we even mention Johnny Depp, Hunter S. Thompson or Charlie Sheen. So, why do smart people fail harder at some of life’s basic challenges than the rest of us? Normally people assume the smarter you are the more you are plagued by existential thoughts.

While there may be something to this, a recent BBC video (published last Monday), which breaks down David Robinson’s book ‘The Intelligence Trap‘ into four digestible points, suggests there’s more to it.

Without further waffle: here’s why greater intelligence, education and expertise might actually amplify our errors, according to the latest psychological research.

Cognitive Miserliness

Capable of cognitive reasoning, but don’t apply your brainpower effectively? Welcome to high IQ life. According to the BBC, smart people often rely too much on their gut feelings. They give the example of a quiz, in which you are asked how many of pairs of animals made it onto Moses’ Ark, to which many intelligent people will miss the point of the question – which is to trick them (it was Noah’s, not Moses’) because they are already five steps ahead of everyone else trying to answer the question in good faith.

The fix? Don’t assume you know what’s coming, even when you probably do. Or, as the BBC puts it: “Cognitive miserliness can cause us to be swayed by irrelevant information or our own feelings, for example, leading to poor financial decisions when buying a house.”

Motivated Reasoning

Sometimes, thanks to the emotional pull of an argument, we can think in a very one-sided way. David Robinson, author of ‘The Intelligence Trap’ illustrates this point with Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes series, a man who clearly understood logic, but who still – in his personal life – maintained a strong belief in fortune-tellers, which his friends – including Harry Houdini – tried (and failed) to rid him of.

Risks of motivated reasoning? Polarized political views, pursuing a failing love affair or rationalising a poor business venture, all of which can get irrationally swept up into your identity.

The Curse Of Expertise

After years of experience in a job, experts might begin to act on autopilot, ‘The Intelligence Trap’ warns, and this can lead you to miss vital information. In other words: keep your brain engaged as much as your clutch.

The ‘Too Much Talent’ Effect

“A sense of conflict and competition within a group cam actually reduce each team member’s problem-solving skills and creativity,” the BBC says. “Even just one or two arrogant team members can completely ruin the group dynamic and reduce the performance of the whole team.”

So, how do you avoid these traps? Here are four tactics.

  • Argue against yourself
  • Self distance (think from an outside perspective)
  • Time travel (imagine yourself in a month or a year’s time, looking back at your decision)
  • Fine-tune your emotions

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