Monday, October 10, 2011

Intelligence is not Rationality.

Unlike most of the HBD crowd, I don't hold IQ in nearly the esteem that they do. Medicine attracts a lot of highly gifted people, people who still manage to do incredibly dumb things. Still, any fair observer of the literature out there cannot but agree that IQ is a strong correlate to worldly success.

It's therefore with some interest, that I've had the pleasure of  acquainting myself with the  works of Dr Keith Stanovich, Professor of Human Development and Applied Psychology of the University of Toronto, who has much to say on the subject of intelligence and rationality.

Stanovich is critical of the unquestioning acceptance of the IQ test. Unlike other detractors, he does not claim that the tests are not valid measures of intelligence, or that there are different types of intelligence, rather, Stanovich recognises that the IQ testing is valid for the determination of intelligence but misses the mark with regard to rationality. Rationality, according to Stanovich, is an all-together different thing to intelligence, and unlike most critics of IQ testing, is able to prove his case with some conviction.

Here is an easy-to-read article he wrote for Scientific American. 

There is a good YouTube video of him presenting his ideas. (Warning, it's about an hour and a half long). His use of George Bush in the early part of the video, as an example of the limitations of IQ testing--Bush was reputed to have an IQ in the 120-130 range--is reason enough to watch it.

He also has a home page where numerous papers of his are available for those who are interested.

One of the very surprising findings of his research is that high IQ, is in many instances, either weakly or not at all correlated to rationality, as it appears that high IQ individuals are just as able to irrationally "solve problems" as their low IQ peers.  The cause of rationality failures amongst the high IQ crowd seem to cluster around cognitive biases, information lack and "cognitive miserliness ". There also seems to be some evidence of cognitive limitations in rationalisation. All in all he provides a convincing, and more importantly, empirically justifiable argument.

There is also a kindle version of his book, What Intelligence Tests Miss. I'm off to read mine now.


Thursday said...

High(er) IQ is necessary, but not sufficient.

Simon Grey said...

I'm going to have to get his books (once I get money, of course). I finally got "The Logic of Failure," but I'm in the middle of three or four other books right now so it'll be a while before I get to that. One of my current reads, for what it's worth, is a book called "The Myths of Standardized Tests." It's been pretty interesting.

The more I read about the subject of intelligence, and the general fetishization thereof, the more I'm beginning to think that far too many people are trying to use intelligence as a substitute for wisdom in order to rebel against "stultifying" tradition.

MPC poster said...

TSP, take a look at this discussion. It touches on something very similar.

R. said...

A good introduction to rationality from Less Wrong: The Cognitive Science of Rationality :

"For example, IQ correlates with performance on tests of outcome bias and hindsight bias, but not with performance on tests of anchoring effects and omission bias. To overcome these latter biases, subjects seem to need not just high cognitive capacity (fluid intelligence, working memory, etc.), but also specific rationality training."

Most of the posts on Less Wrong concern rationality, so it is very much worth a look.

Anonymous said...

Some ideas are just so stupid that only a truly smart person can perform the mental gymnastics needed to convince themselves that they are true.

Rationalizations != Rationality

The Social Pathologist said...


Charleton correctly identifies the problem, but I don't think that he has worked the cognitive mechanism yet.

Thanks for the link, I'll check it out.

Some ideas are just so stupid that only a truly smart person can perform the mental gymnastics needed to convince themselves that they are true.

I don't think it's mental gymnastics as much as it is of outright intellectual dishonesty.
The refusal to incorporate "inconvenient truths" is not so much a problem of passive perception or cognitive deficiency, rather an active exclusionary principle must be at play. The classic example being the infatuation of the intellectuals with Stalin. His crimes were widely reported in the west and yet people chose not believe. It's one thing not to hear about his crimes, it's another to actively ignore them.

I do think that there seems to be variants in stupidity: One type is innocent, the other culpable.

Dirichlet said...

I think there is some merit to Anon's comment. Highly intelligent people have an uncanny tendency to find rationalizations for their own biases and preconceived notions. There are two reasons why this is dangerous: 1. The lack of humility that stems from noticing that less intelligent people are incapable of rationalizing like them makes them believe that what they are saying must be true; and 2. Our society takes those rationalizations too seriously, so they are the ones who end up dictating our economic and social policies.

So, I believe very intelligent children deserve special treatment. We should not emphasize their early intellectual and artistic development so much (note: I'm not saying these should be neglected); but socialize them more, engage them in sports and instill in them a deeper sense of humility and loyalty and respect for legitimate authority. The Christian religion is incredibly helpful here.

Anonymous Protestant said...

Excuse me, did you not call for a "cognitive elite" to essentially run the world without any bothersome input from the mere plebes less than a fortnight ago? Aren't the high IQ but irrational people part of that cognitive elite you are so keen on?

And given the 20+ year run of US Presidents who graduated from the cognitively elite Ivy League schools, isn't the current crisis not so much a market failure as a failure of the cognitive elite?

It seems to me you are contradicting yourself.