According to author David Robson,
we’re not always as smart as we think we are.
Psychological research suggests that greater intelligence,
education and expertise might actually amplify our errors.
Consider this question.
How many animals of each species did Moses take on the ark?
The answer of course is zero.
But many intelligent people get this wrong.
They are cognitive misers, they are capable of intelligent reasoning
but they don’t apply that brain power effectively,
instead relying too much on their gut feelings.
Cognitive miserliness can cause us to be swayed
by irrelevant information and our own feelings.
For example, leading us to poor financial decisions
when buying a house.
It can also explain why apparently intelligent people
can fall for fake news if they rely too much on the gist
rather than the details of a statement.
Sometimes, thanks to the emotional pull of an argument,
we think in a very one-sided manner.
So Arthur Conan Doyle is the perfect example of motivated reasoning.
Now he was obviously an incredibly intelligent man –
he was a doctor and also wrote all of the Sherlock Holmes books
where he really shows a very clear understanding
of what logical deduction should be.
But in his own private life,
Arthur Conan Doyle was not nearly so rational.
He had a very strong emotional belief in spiritualism
and often visited fraudulent mediums.
Now, Arthur Conan Doyle’s friends
which included Harry Houdini the illusionist,
often tried to persuade him that he was wrong
and to show him the evidence
that he was being scammed by these people,
but Arthur Conan Doyle just didn’t believe their arguments.
So for instance he would try to bring in
the latest physics on the electromagnetic field
to explain how fairies might exist
but just appeared in another wavelength.
You may not believe in fairies
but motivated reasoning can lead to polarized political views.
It may also allow you to rationalise poor business ventures or a failing love affair.
You may hope that education or professional expertise
would protect you from error
but these can also backfire.
After years of experience in a job,
experts for instance may begin to act on auto-pilot
and that automatic decision-making can sometimes miss vital information.
This may explain a terrible case from 2004
when a man called Brandon Mayfield
was accused of conducting the Madrid bombings.
Now Brandon Mayfield had not left the USA during that time
and yet the FBI’s fingerprint examiners
still accused him of the crime.
The Spanish police had found a fingerprint
on a plastic bag near the scene of the crime.
Now the FBI had put that into their computers
and they had found about 20 candidates
who might have made the match.
And when they looked at Brandon Mayfield’s,
they were sure that they were identical.
Yet when you look at the fingerprints
there are actually some very important differences
that they had completely missed
but thanks to the curse of expertise,
they were susceptible to confirmation bias.
So they only saw the bits that matched
and were completely blind to the bits that didn’t match.
Sometimes smart people can act stupidly
thanks to the people who are around us.
A sense of conflict and competition within a group
can actually reduce each team member’s
problem-solving skills and creativity.
Even just one or two arrogant team members
can completely ruin the group dynamic
and reduce the performance of the whole team.
One study found that people’s individual IQ levels
actually drop when they feel in competition with others.
Just think of Iceland’s victory in the 2016 Euro Championships.
Now Iceland is a tiny country compared to the rest of Europe,
it really doesn’t have a huge pool of talent,
and yet they performed extraordinarily well
and in fact they humiliated the England football team
by defeating them despite all of our really top tier players.
Now this is an example of the too-much-talent-effect.
Because England with so many star players
really struggled to have a cohesive group dynamic,
there were too many egos vying for attention.
Luckily there are things that you can do to avoid these thinking traps.
For example, you can try arguing against yourself.
Consider your initial gut reaction
and then deliberately try to think from the opposite point of view.
Another technique you can use is called self-distancing.
Step out of your shoes for a second
and think about your issue from an outside perspective.
Or you might try mental time travel.
Imagine yourself in a month or a year’s time,
looking back at your decision.
Lastly, why not try fine-tuning your emotional awareness.
Being able to label our feelings helps us to control them.
Various studies have shown that this simple technique
has actually reduced emotional responses
and made people less biased.
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According to author David Robson,