Why it is bad to be too smart

Original author: David Robson
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If ignorance is a blessing, does that mean high IQ equates suffering? In the mass representation, this is so - geniuses are usually represented as people suffering from fears, dissatisfaction and loneliness. Remember Virginia Woolf, Alan Turing and Lisa Simpson - lonely stars isolated in their brightness. According to Hemingway: "Happiness in smart people is the rarest of all that I know."

The question seems to affect not so many people - but if you understand it, it turns out that it entails complex consequences for many people. The education system is mainly aimed at improving academic knowledge. Although the limitations of the IQ system are known, this is still the main way to measure cognitive abilities, and we spend a lot of money on brain training, trying to improve these indicators. But what if finding a genius is a futile affair?

The first steps in finding an answer to this question were taken 100 years ago, in the era of jazz. At that time, the innovative IQ test was gaining popularity after it had justified itself in the recruitment centers of the First World War. In 1926, psychologist Lewis Terman decided to use it to test a group of gifted children. Having collected the cream of students from California schools, he selected 1,500 students with an IQ of at least 140. 80 of them had an IQ of more than 170. They were called “Termites,” and their life stories are still being studied.

Of course, many Termites have achieved wealth and success. For example, Jess Oppenheimer, who wrote the classic 50s sitcom I Love Lucy. In those days, when he was turned on CBS, the average salary of the Termites was twice the average salary of the then “white-collar workers”. But not all people from this group lived up to expectations - many went into a more modest affair, became police officers, sailors and typists. Therefore, Terman concluded that "intelligence and achievement are very weakly correlated." Their outstanding mind did not guarantee them personal happiness. The number of divorces, alcoholism and suicides in their midst coincided with average levels.

Aging, the Termites again proved that intelligence is not identical with the best conditions of life. At best, intellectual excellence does not affect your satisfaction with life. At worst, you will be less satisfied.

This does not mean that everyone with a high IQ is an exhausted genius. But, nevertheless, this is a mystery. Why are the benefits of high intelligence not justifying themselves in the long run?



Heavy burden


One of the possibilities is that knowing about your talents becomes a burden for a person. In the 90s, still living Termites were questioned about their previous lives. Instead of enjoying the successes, they said that all the time they felt as if they had not met their youthful expectations.

This sense of burden, mixed with the expectations of others, often oppresses gifted children. The history of the mathematical genius of Sufi Yusuf occupies a special place. She entered Oxford at age 12, but dropped out shortly before exams and got a job as a waitress. She then worked as a call girl, entertaining clients with her ability to quote equations during sex.

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Sufi Yusuf

Another common complaint is that smart people see better the flaws of the world around them. While ordinary people sleep and move away from their existential fears, smart people lie awake, suffering about human imperfections or human stupidity.

Constant excitement is one of the signs of intelligence, but it does not manifest itself exactly as philosophers imagined. Canadian researchers interviewing students on college campus found that high IQ students experience more anxiety and anxiety throughout the day. Although the main reasons for their concerns were banal, routine. Students with high IQ were more likely to worry about a failed conversation than about global issues. “Not that their excitement was deeper,” says Alexander Penny, one of the researchers. - They just worried more often than others and for more reasons. They thought more about some kind of trouble. ”

Understanding further, Penny discovered that this condition correlated with verbal intelligence - that which is tested by word problems in IQ tests. Conversely, spatial tests reduced the risks of anxiety states. He believes that the more eloquent a person is, the more likely he will be to voice his fears and suffer because of them. But this is not necessarily a flaw. “Maybe they solved more problems than other people,” he says. “Therefore, it could help them learn from their own mistakes.”

Blind spots of consciousness


The sad truth is that increased intelligence does not amount to wiser decisions — in some cases, the opposite happens. Kate Stanovich of the University of Toronto has been creating tests to test rationality for 10 years. He found that decision making is highly dependent on IQ. Take even cognitive distortion when a person is inclined to filter information, collecting only those facts that strengthen his point of view. It would be smarter to leave assumptions and collect information impartially - but Stanovich found that more intelligent people do this no more often than people with an average level of IQ.

And that's not all. Those who pass cognitive tests well are more likely to be affected by the presence of a “blind spot” in decision making. They see less of their own flaws, although they can criticize others well. And they can often fall for the “player error” - the idea that if a coin is dropped 10 times by an eagle, then the probability of a tails falling increases by the 11th time. Both roulette players and stock players selling stocks before they hit the peak of the price fell into this bait.

The tendency to rely on intuition instead of rational thinking explains why so many people among the members of the Mensa intellectual club believe in paranormal phenomena, or why a person with IQ 140 is more likely to spend all the money on a credit card.

Stanovich reveals these distortions in all social strata. “People with above-average intelligence do a lot of irrational things,” he says. “Those who advocate against vaccination and spread misinformation across sites usually show a higher level of intelligence.” It turns out that more intelligent people are more likely to fall into error.

But if intelligence does not lead to rational thinking and better lives, then what then? Igor Grosman from the Canadian University of Waterloo, believes that we need to turn to the concept of "wisdom." Moreover, his approach is quite scientific. “The concept of wisdom is a fuzzy concept,” he admits. “But if you look at the definition of wisdom, many will agree that this is what allows you to make good and informed decisions.”

In the experiment, Grosman offered volunteers social dilemmas, from decisions about military conflicts to the heartbreaking situations described in the Dear Abby women's council column in the Washington Post. The commission of psychologists evaluated the reasoning of volunteers and their susceptibility to cognitive biases: how substantiated were their arguments, did the subjects recognize the limitations of their knowledge (intellectual modesty), and did they ignore important details that did not fit into their theory.

It turned out that high grades predicted better satisfaction with life, the quality of relationships, and reduced excitement and obsessive feelings - in general, all that is missing from classical smart people. Wise decisions often led to an increase in life expectancy. At the same time, Grosman discovered that IQ did not correlate with his measurements, and did not mean more wisdom. “Smarter people can quickly find arguments for their judgment, but they can be very susceptible to cognitive distortion.”

Acquired Wisdom


In the future, employers may implement testing of such indicators instead of IQ. Google has already announced plans to select candidates for qualities such as intellectual modesty, instead of simple intellectual skills.

Fortunately, wisdom can be developed regardless of your IQ. “I believe that wisdom can be trained,” Grosman says. He explains that it’s easier for a person to get rid of cognitive biases by evaluating other people, not himself. In this regard, he found that a simple story about his problems in the third person (“he” or “she” instead of “I”) helps to emotionally distance oneself, reduce bias and find wiser arguments.

The difficulty is getting people to acknowledge their weaknesses. If you rested on the laurels of your intellect all your life, it’s pretty hard to admit that it can distort your judgment. As Socrates said: the wisest of all people is the one who can admit that he knows nothing.

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