Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid

Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid

EDITED BY ROBERT J. STERNBERG
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npsdv
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  • Book Info
    Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid
    Book Description:

    One need not look far to find breathtaking acts of stupidity committed by people who are smart, or even brilliant. The behavior of smart individuals-from presidents to prosecutors to professors-is at times so amazingly stupid as to seem inexplicable. Why do otherwise intelligent people think and behave in ways so stupid that they sometimes destroy their livelihoods or even their lives?This book is the first devoted to investigating what the most current psychological research can tell us about stupidity in everyday life. The contributors to the volume, renowned scholars in various areas of human intelligence, present fascinating examples of people messing up their lives, and they offer insights into the reasons for such behavior. From a variety of perspectives, the contributors discuss:• The nature and theory of stupidity• How stupidity contributes to stupid behavior• Whether stupidity is measurableWhile many millions of dollars are spent each year on intelligence research and testing to determine who has the ability to succeed, next to nothing is spent to determine who will make use of their intelligence and not squander it by behaving stupidly.Why Smart People Can Be So Stupidfocuses on the neglected side of this discussion, reviewing the full range of theory and research on stupid behavior and analyzing what it tells us about how people can avoid stupidity and its devastating consequences.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12820-8
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. 1 Why and When Are Smart People Stupid?
    (pp. 1-23)
    RAY HYMAN

    The title of this book,Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid,assumes that smart people at least sometimes do stupid things. In addition, the title implies that such stupid behavior needs explaining. The first challenge to anyone who tries to provide an explanation is that the title is phrased in terms from the common vernacular. The key wordssmartandstupidbelong to folk psychology. As such, their meanings are vague, ambiguous, and shift with person and context.

    The termsmartcan be equated with the psychological concept ofintelligence.This, in fact, is what the contributors to this...

  6. 2 Beliefs That Make Smart People Dumb
    (pp. 24-41)
    CAROL S. DWECK

    For many years I have studied the beliefs that make smart people dumb—beliefs that make them do dumb things, and also cause them to fall behind intellectually over time. In fact, this has been the central issue in my research: why people who have all the ability one could wish for often don’t use it when they need it most and can even lose it (relative to their initially less able peers).

    The reason for this, ironically, lies in the very fact that many smart people become too invested in being smart. They think of smartness as something that...

  7. 3 Smart People Doing Dumb Things THE CASE OF MANAGERIAL INCOMPETENCE
    (pp. 42-63)
    RICHARD K. WAGNER

    A provost’s term at a major private university was marked by unprecedented success. Eagerly sought by search committees, he accepted an offer to be president of a large state university. By all objective indicators, his success continued. During his presidency, huge increases were achieved in the university’s endowment and amount of funded research. Undergraduate enrollment increased, as did the average sat scores of admitted students. Ranking of program quality by the National Research Council indicated improvement in already high-quality programs for the most part. Yet recently this president resigned under pressure.

    When I mentioned this situation to a colleague from...

  8. 4 The Engine of Folly
    (pp. 64-85)
    DAVID N. PERKINS

    On a night in mid-March 1999, a truck driver carrying a load of heavy steel bars from a nearby steel plant trundled through the small town of Bourbonnais, Illinois, toward a railroad crossing. At the same time, a train approached the crossing and the gates came down. Apparently the truck driver tried to beat the train by swerving around the closed gates—various reports indicate this, although the driver contested it. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it. The train collided with the body of the truck, injuring over one hundred passengers and crew. Some fifty were hospitalized, and eleven were killed....

  9. 5 When Smart People Behave Stupidly RECONCILING INCONSISTENCIES IN SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
    (pp. 86-105)
    OZLEM AYDUK and WALTER MISCHEL

    A curious discrepancy exists between everyday experience and the widespread belief that intelligence is a broad, generalized attribute that characterizes a person consistently. The latter suggests that a smart person should generally be smart; the former makes it clear that smart people often behave in remarkably stupid ways. Recent documentation comes in the painful details of President Clinton’s sojourn to impeachment (Marrow 1999). Even more surprising, if less publicized, was the fall of Sol Wachtler, chief judge of the State of New York and the court of appeals, to incarceration as a felon in federal prison. Judge Wachtler was well...

  10. 6 Sex, Lies, and Audiotapes THE CLINTON-LEWINSKY SCANDAL
    (pp. 106-123)
    DIANE F. HALPERN

    It is always risky to use political events as examples of cognitive or social phenomena because the political leanings of the writer and the audience figure prominently in how the event is interpreted and how the critique of the event is received. In politics, as in many other arenas, judgments about the degree to which an action is smart or stupid are in the eyes of the beholder. Often, the ‘‘beholders’’ of political events view the world through the corrective lens of their political party, with each lens creating its own unique distortion. As a prime example of the way...

  11. 7 Rationality, Intelligence, and Levels of Analysis in Cognitive Science IS DYSRATIONALIA POSSIBLE?
    (pp. 124-158)
    KEITH E. STANOVICH

    In a 1994 article in the journalCognition,Eldar Shafir describes a very straightforward rule from decision theory. The rule, termed the sure-thing principle by Savage (1954), says the following. Imagine you are choosing between two possible outcomes, A and B, and event X is an event that may or may not occur in the future. If you prefer prospect A to prospect B if X happens and also you prefer prospect A to prospect B if X does not happen, then you definitely prefer A to B, and that preference is in no way changed by knowledge of event...

  12. 8 Smart Is as Stupid Does EXPLORING BASES OF ERRONEOUS REASONING OF SMART PEOPLE REGARDING LEARNING AND OTHER DISABILITIES
    (pp. 159-186)
    ELENA L. GRIGORENKO and DONNA LOCKERY

    In 1925, Samuel Orton, director of an Iowa State Psychiatric Hospital, upon the request of the Iowa Conference of Social Work, sent a number of mental health clinic workers to rural Greene County. According to Lyday (1926), the caseworkers evaluated 173 referrals (originating primarily from the county schools). Of these referrals, 84 of the children were described by their teachers as ‘‘dull, backward, or retarded,’’ and 30 were described as ‘‘nervous, peculiar, or unruly.’’ This group of children was rather heterogeneous, with IQs ranging from 70 to 122; but the common feature was that all of them had learning difficulties...

  13. 9 Personality Dispositions
    (pp. 187-211)
    ELIZABETH J. AUSTIN and IAN J. DEARY

    In this chapter we consider the contribution of personality to ‘‘state stupidity.’’ It is necessary to first adopt a meaningful definition of the term ‘‘stupid.’’ Scores on personality and ability tests are only weakly related to each other (Ackerman & Heggestadt 1997), so personality does not strongly affect intelligence. This means that, for example, the proportions of highly extraverted and introverted people in groups of all levels of intelligence are very similar. Personality does, however, strongly affect behavior. This provides a mechanism for smart individuals to be stupid, owing to the effects of noncognitive aspects of their dispositions. In order...

  14. 10 When “Stupid” Is Smarter Than We Are MINDLESSNESS AND THE ATTRIBUTION OF STUPIDITY
    (pp. 212-231)
    MIHNEA MOLDOVEANU and ELLEN LANGER

    The stupid should wear signs so we know not to rely on them. It’s like before my wife and I moved from Texas to California, our house was full of boxes and there was a U-Haul truck in our driveway. My neighbor comes over and says, ‘‘Hey, you moving?’’ ‘‘Nope. We just pack our stuff up once or twice a week just to see how many boxes it takes. Here’s your sign.’’

    A couple of months ago I went fishing with a buddy. We pulled his boat into the dock, I lifted up this big ol’ stringer of bass and...

  15. 11 Smart People Are Not Stupid, But They Sure Can Be Foolish THE IMBALANCE THEORY OF FOOLISHNESS
    (pp. 232-242)
    ROBERT J. STERNBERG

    According to theAmerican Heritage Dictionary of the English Language(1992), a person who isstupidis ‘‘1. Slow to learn or understand; obtuse; 2. Lacking or marked by lack of intelligence’’ (pp. 1784–1785). A person who isfoolishis ‘‘1. Lacking or exhibiting a lack of good sense or judgment; silly. . . 2. Resulting from stupidity or misinformation; unwise . . . 3. Arousing laughter; absurd or ridiculous . . . 4. Immoderate or stubborn, unreasonable’’ (p. 707). The two definitions refer to quite di ã erent kinds of entities.

    Consider what became the classic case of the...

  16. List of Contributors
    (pp. 243-244)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 245-254)