Who are You Calling “Smart”?
- Traditional IQ tests miss some of the most important aspects of real-world decision making. It is possible to test high in IQ yet to suffer from the logical-thought defect known as dysrationalia.
- One cause of dysrationalia is that people tend to be cognitive misers, meaning that they take the easy way out when trying to solve problems, often leading to solutions that are wrong.
- Another cause of dysrationalia is the mindware gap, which occurs when people lack the specific knowledge, rules and strategies needed to think rationally.
- Tests do exist that can measure dysrationalia, and they should be given more often to pick up the deficiencies that IQ tests miss.
No doubt you know several folks with perfectly respectable IQs who repeatedly make poor decisions. The behavior of such people tells us that we are missing something important by treating intelligence as if it encompassed all cognitive abilities. I coined the term “dysrationalia” (analogous to “dyslexia”), meaning the inability to think and behave rationally despite having adequate intelligence, to draw attention to a large domain of cognitive life that intelligence tests fail to assess. Although most people recognize that IQ tests do not measure every important mental faculty, we behave as if they do. We have an implicit assumption that intelligence and rationality go together—or else why would we be so surprised when smart people do foolish things?
It is useful to get a handle on dysrationalia and its causes because we are beset by problems that require increasingly more accurate, rational responses. In the 21st century, shallow processing can lead physicians to choose less effective medical treatments, can cause people to fail to adequately assess risks in their environment, can lead to the misuse of information in legal proceedings, and can make parents resist vaccinating their children. Millions of dollars are spent on unneeded projects by government and private industry when decision makers are dysrationalic, billions are wasted on quack remedies, unnecessary surgery is performed and costly financial misjudgments are made.
IQ tests do not measure dysrationalia. But as I show in my 2010 book, What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought, there are ways to measure dysrationalia and ways to correct it. Decades of research in cognitive psychology have suggested two causes of dysrationalia. One is a processing problem, the other a content problem. Much is known about both of them.