In his 2020 article in The Guardian, “The Psychology of Stupidity,” David Robson delves into the research on why intelligent people can make stupid mistakes and how cognitive biases can lead to errors in judgment.
Robson explains that while people often equate intelligence with good decision-making, research has shown that intelligence is not necessarily a safeguard against stupidity. In fact, even very intelligent people can make serious errors in judgment. This is because intelligence alone does not protect against cognitive biases, which can lead people to make decisions that are objectively foolish.
One of the key cognitive biases that can lead to stupidity is confirmation bias. This is the tendency to seek out information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs and ignore information that contradicts them. For example, a person who believes that vaccines are dangerous may seek out information that supports this belief and ignore evidence that shows vaccines are safe and effective. This can lead to dangerous decisions, such as not vaccinating one’s children or spreading misinformation about vaccines.
Another cognitive bias that can lead to stupidity is the Dunning-Kruger effect. This is the tendency for people who are incompetent in a particular area to overestimate their abilities. People who are particularly ignorant or inexperienced in a field may not even realize how much they don’t know, leading them to make foolish decisions based on flawed assumptions.
Robson also discusses how groupthink can contribute to stupidity. When people are surrounded by others who share their beliefs, they may become complacent and fail to question their assumptions. This can lead to decisions that are based on incomplete information or flawed reasoning.
So how can we avoid falling into the trap of stupidity? One solution is to actively seek out dissenting opinions and be open to changing our minds based on new information. This requires humility and a willingness to admit when we are wrong. It also means being willing to listen to people who have different perspectives and being open to the possibility that we may be wrong.
Another solution is to cultivate critical thinking skills. This means learning to recognize cognitive biases and question our assumptions. It also means being willing to do the hard work of gathering and evaluating evidence before making a decision.
Finally, Robson suggests that we need to be willing to admit when we don’t know something. This requires a certain level of intellectual honesty and a willingness to acknowledge our own limitations. By admitting that we don’t know everything, we create space for learning and growth.
In conclusion, while intelligence is an important factor in decision-making, it is not a guarantee against stupidity. Even very intelligent people can make foolish decisions based on cognitive biases, groupthink, and other factors. To avoid falling into the trap of stupidity, we need to be willing to seek out dissenting opinions, cultivate critical thinking skills, and be humble enough to admit when we don’t know something. By doing so, we can make better decisions and avoid the pitfalls of stupidity.