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What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought Hardcover – January 27, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“An original, well-supported, and brilliantly tied together book that reveals the misunderstood relationship between IQ, intelligence, and rationality.”—David Over, Durham University, Psychology Department
(David Over)

“In this compellingly readable book Keith Stanovich explains the bold claim that the notions of rationality and intelligence must be distinguished sharply and studied separately. His proposal would deeply change both the field of intelligence testing and the study of individual decision making—and he may well succeed.”—Daniel Kahneman, Princeton University, Nobel Laureate in Economics
(Daniel Kahneman)

“In this brilliant and entertaining book, Keith Stanovich shows that intelligence tests, though they have their uses, fail to assess the key components of rational thought and action.”—P. N. Johnson-Laird, author of How We Reason
(P. N. Johnson-Laird)

"Professor Stanovich has an unparalleled ability to synthesize results from diverse domains of cognitive science in a lively way that is tremendously useful to us non-specialists. This book is not about emotional or multiple intelligence; it's about intelligence in its most important practical dimensions."—E. D. Hirsch, Jr., author of The Knowledge Deficit and The Schools We Need
(E. D. Hirsch, Jr. 2008-05-01)

“In this smart and rational book, Keith Stanovich explains the difference between intelligence and rationality. Stanovich, one of psychology’s wisest writers about intelligence, also shows that IQ tests do not measure the full scope of mental ability because they fail to assess rational thought, which is central to happiness and fulfillment. This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to know what makes us truly smart—and why smart people often behave irrationally.”—Carol Tavris, Ph.D., coauthor of Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) : Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts
(Carol Tavris, Ph.D.)

"In this dazzling synthesis about how well and poorly people think and why, Keith Stanovich drives a wedge between intelligence and rationality. This book demonstrates compellingly how rationality is more than intelligence and how those who are intelligent can be dismayingly irrational."—David Perkins, author of The Eureka Effect
(David Perkins)

Chosen as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2009 by Choice Magazine
(Choice 2010-01-01)

About the Author

Keith E. Stanovich is professor of human development and applied psychology, University of Toronto. He lives in Portland, OR.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1 edition (January 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030012385X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300123852
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,027,869 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an interesting book that expands the debate regarding IQ tests. The supporters of IQ tests such as Charles Murray in Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (A Free Press Paperbacks Book) and Arthur Jensen in The g Factor: The Science of Mental Ability (Human Evolution, Behavior, and Intelligence) state they fully capture cognitive capabilities and predict social outcome. But, the detractors such as Howard Gardner in Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice and David Coleman in Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition; Why It Can Matter More Than IQ state IQ is too narrow a concept and IQ tests are inaccurate. Stanovich agrees with the supporters that IQ can be measured and it captures specific cognitive skills. And, that it has causal social outcome implications. He disagrees with detractors that we need to expand the concept of intelligence and that IQ tests are irrelevant. However, he advances that IQ tests do not measure rational decision making ability.

Stanovich refers to IQ as the Algorithmic Mind and rationality as the Reflective Mind. He indicates that the correlation between the two is low. Many people have the equivalent of a powerful computer inside their brain. But, they are surprisingly poor "computer user" of that brain power.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
We are all familiar with the phenomenon of those who have high IQ's doing things that seem stupid. This leads to the distinction between "book smarts" and "street smarts," but strangely enough, we call BOTH of these things intelligence. We recognize both the absent-minded professor and the low IQed entrepreneur as "intelligent." How, though, can the term "intelligence" apply to two seemingly non-correlated things (being book-smart and street-smart)?

Psychologist Keith Stanovich has an interesting idea: maybe "intelligence tests" measure intelligence (as traditionally defined) but not a wholly different faculty of rationality. To Stanovich, the difference between intelligence and rationality is the difference between the "algorithmic mind" and the "reflective mind," or, the difference between the ability to employ algorithms and the ability to think about and CRITICALLY employ algorithms. (I might say that intelligence may be the ability to map or write a sentence and rationality is the ability to formulate arguments and write a persuasive essay.)

The first half of Stanovich's book is dedicated to showing that while IQ tests are a valid measure of a faculty of general intelligence (he does not deny that IQ tests measure a very real thing), it simply does not measure all that we understand to be good thinking.

Stanovich, though, is also a critic of those like Gardner and Sternberg who want to add to the number of "intelligences" (musical intelligence, naturalistic intelligence, creative intelligence). These things, he says, inadvertently beatify the term "intelligence" to be a be-all-end-all that it is not (by implying that any good mental work must be called an "intelligence" rather than a "talent," "skill" or "proclivity.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I agree on the points made already, including, good start by separating rational thinking from raw intelligence in the sense of processing power, then a propensity to present too many examples of faulty reasoning already made in the literature. I will focus on additional points not mentioned by other reviewers.

What this book gets right:
- stressing a clear distinction between IQ and rationality
- presenting a taxonomy of thinking processes and associated thinking errors according to current cognitive science

Where this book does not so well:
- examples for irrationality often strangely unconvincing or muddled with issues of preference over raw rationality
- repetition of arguments instead of fleshing them out (the endnotes are better written than the main text because here the authors does not try to pander to the 'average' reader by diluting his argument and finding examples from sports etc)
- creation of unnecessary neologisms ("contaminated mindware" instead of "questionable beliefs")

Where this book fails:
- failure to clearly define elements of rationality beyond the labels "instrumental" and "epistemic" and an arbitrary collection of good thinking habits
- failure to come to terms with, or even mention, the problem of volition - who is the controller, what would propel him to override/control his instincts, in which situations is rational thought it the 'right' choice, are there situations where it is not helpful, can such a choice even be determined a priori etc.
- complete failure to assess the issue of the normative in the discussion of rationality.
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