- Paperback: 328 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press; 1 edition (February 23, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300164629
- ISBN-13: 978-0300164626
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 19 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #406,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought 1st Edition
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About the Author
Keith E. Stanovich is professor of human development and applied psychology, University of Toronto. He lives in Portland, OR.
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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.") Instead, Stanovich makes the point that intelligence is simply one component of good thinking. The other, often overlooked, ingredient is rationality (and he alludes to several studies which show these two faculties are not very positively correlated. One can have high amounts of one and low amounts of the other.)
What I thought and hoped Stanovich would do next - what he did not do - is offer a sense of how we can test for RQ (rationality quotient). While the first half makes the case very well that rationality should be valued and tested every bit as much as intelligence, he does not follow it up by showing how such a thing might be done.
Instead, Stanovich devotes the second half of this book largely to cataloguing and demonstrating "thinking errors" that distinguish rational from irrational thought. For example, humans are "cognitive misers" by nature, who like to make decisions based often on first judgments and quick (rather than thorough) analysis (a likely evolutionary strategy, as ancestors that were quick and somewhat accurate probably did better than those who were slow and very accurate). Also, humans often put more emphasis on verification than falsification, and fail to consider alternative hypotheses in problems, preferring often to go with the most obvious answer.
All of these, while interesting, have been better and more thoroughly documented in other books by decision theorists and psychologists. All Stanovich needed to do was refer us to these, at most, devoting a chapter or two to examples. There is more important work for Stanovich to do then rehash what we can just as soon read elsewhere. Instead, I think he sh old have begun outlining ideas on how to test for rationality. What would such tests look like? How would such tests affect our educational system (focused, as it is, on IQ)? What would test questions even look like and how can they be adjusted for by age/grade level? Are there pitfalls?
None of these questions were answered, and Stanovich's argument is the worse for it. Stanovich himself notes that one big reason for IQ's predominance in the psychometric world is that it is measurable (which is a big strike against many of Gardner's "multiple intelligences"). Ironically, Stanovich's failure to suggest ways to measure RQ will likely have the same effect for his idea as it had for Gardner's.
It is a shame, though. As an educator concerned both with the undeserved predominance of IQ and also the failure of concepts such as Gardner's "multiple intelligence" to offer a serious challenge, I quite like Stanovich's germinal idea. As we all know that rationality is a key component to good thinking, and it is hard to think that it is positively correlated to IQ, it would be interesting to find a way to measure RQ as a valid supplement to IQ. It is simply too bad this book did not explore the practical questions involved with his tantalizing suggestion.
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. He mentions Georges Bush, Jr. who was very intelligent as measured by IQ tests. But, he was not a proficient thinker as he was dogmatic, ill informed, impatient, and prone to rash decisions sometimes associated with devastating outcomes. Stanovich describes Bush condition as Dysrationalia or someone who is less rational than his IQ would suggest.
Stanovich advances that our thinking flaws have an evolutionary source. Evolution is concerned with maximizing survival through procreation. This is associated with quick thinking processes instead of the slower cogitating necessary for complex rational decisions.
Stanovich explores the thinking flaws that prevents us from thinking rationally. They include framing, anchoring, biases, extracting erroneous patterns, discounting future benefits excessively. Here, his references include Scott Plous excellent The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making and Dan Ariely Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.
Stanovich suggests we make mental mistakes for several different reasons. First, we are mentally lazy looking for the most immediate solution withouth engaging our higher level thinking processes (algorithmic and reflective thinking). Second, we lack the knowledge to interpret the data rationally (mindware gaps). Third, our rationality falls victim to irrational beliefs: creationism, astrology, Ponzi schemes, etc... (contaminated mindware).
Our lack of adequate rational thinking can have devastating results. This is true in personal finance. Overconfidence in one's knowledge and skills, fitting patterns where none exist, and loss aversion cause the majority of investors to loose money in the stock market. This is even true of investors who invest in mutual funds yet whose returns are far worse than the mutual funds they invest in. This is because they invest in and cash out at exactly the wrong time (buy high and sell low). Here, the author does support the Efficient Market Hypothesis and states that most investors are better off buying and holding an index fund than trading. For more on this subject, I recommend Malkiel's A Random Walk Down Wall Street: The Time-Tested Strategy for Successful Investing. Besides personal finance, lack of rational thinking has dire consequences in foreign policy, and medicine (check out "How Doctors Think" to study this issue further).
In chapter 10, he covers the main mindware gaps, or the quantitative knowledge we often lack to make rational decision. These tools include the scientific method, probability theory, and Bayesian statistics (his section on this topic is arduous for an easier explanation read instead Calculated Risks: How to Know When Numbers Deceive You. Within this chapter he also covers the thinking temperaments that make us good rational thinkers. This includes the ability to accept uncertainty, being open-minded, intellectually investigative, and humble. Such a temperament will allow one to practice sound critical thinking.
Contaminated mindware includes Ponzi schemes, recovered memory theory, conspiracy theories, tax-evasion schemes, win-the-lottery scams, fraudulent investment schemes, Holocaust denying, UFO abductions, Intelligent Design and creationism, religious fundamentalism among others. He indicates that believers in such contaminated mindware have often high IQs. He refers to many studies confirming that terrorists are among the best educated individuals within their religious communities. See Alan Krueger's What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism (New Edition).
In the last chapter, he recommends we teach rational thinking mindware in high school and college. Charles Murray in Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality agreed. College curriculum should include mandatory classes in statistics, logic, and philosophy so that we all become better decision makers.
He also recommends that social policies guide us to make the better choice so that society as a whole benefit from rationality despite our being irrational. This entails making the optimal choice the default selection when we are to choose to be an organ donor or participate in our company's 401K. By doing so, our society would save hundred of thousands of lives (more available organs) and improve the financial welfare of millions of retirees. This is called libertarian paternalism by Richard Thaler who wrote an entire book on the subject: Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.
This book will make you a better decision maker by making you aware of your own blind spots whether they are due to mindware gaps or contaminated mindware.