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Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid Hardcover – April 1, 2002
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[P]rovides valuable insight into a subject that eludes, but that intrigues as well. -- James A. Crawford, The Harvard Crimson
From the Back Cover
"This book is a serious attempt to understand a common phenomenon. Students of human behavior should find it appealing and may even learn how to avoid doing stupid things."-Psychology Today; "This original book gathers together the best thinking and research on what causes smart people to do foolish things. A highly original work with an exceptional list of contributors."-Martin Ford, George Mason University; "Marvelous, devilishly clever, and culturally timely book. . . . A fascinating exploration. . . . All of the contributions are outstanding."-Choice; --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
Whilst psychometric correlates of the `smart' and `intelligent' are cited throughout the book (high IQ, high `G'-factor, either high or low scoring on various personality inventory components), no convincing data is presented in an attempt to directly correlate any independent measure of `stupidity' with psychological theory. As a result, perhaps, a significant number of this volume's authors sought to explain `stupid behaviour' as a person'sfailure to adapt to novel circumstances. However, this does little more work than to merely restate the antithesis: that `good' intelligence ontologically scaffolds in response to the need for increasingly flexible, dynamic behaviours in the face of challenges beyond the ken of one's current (and likely more reflexive) response repertoire. Using examples from business and industry, at least two chapters [Wagner and Austin & Deary] remind us that circumstances involving unfamiliar, ill-formed or poorly-defined problem spaces will more likely result in decisions thought stupid in hindsight, but they also point to conflict management as being a significant variable. Such findings serve to inform us that our attempts to transfer template problem-solutions (or indeed any previously successful habits of mind) to novel situations may later prove to have been a poor strategy (think Chamberlain & Hitler), or even complete folly (think Clinton & Lewinsky). Sociopersonal factors were also frequently cited as being of importance in explaining stupidity, with managerial incompetence in particular being shown to correlate with the (personal) emotional stability of managers, as did their degree of insensitivity to the needs and expectations of their subordinates and co-workers.
But if there is a recipe here for our avoiding stupid behaviour, such may be derived only from our interpreting the combined arguments and views put forward over the entirety of the volume. If it is true that we become good at what we spend most of our time doing (as I'm fond of telling my students is indeed the case) then this book suggests that we should devote a fair proportion of our time to recognising the significance of all our inter-, intra-, and extra-subjective personal circumstances. We need to be alert to identifying the critical changes in our situation(s) [Halpern]. We also need to be prepared to adapt to such changes (possibly in novel ways) without recourse to reflexive habit and reward by immediate gratification [Ayduk & Mischel]. Furthermore, we should strive to consider the power of uncertainty, such that we might then learn what might be (rather than concentrating our attention upon what one thinks currently `is') the case [Modeoveanu & Langer]. Furthermost, we must continue to construct and reconstruct past scenarios in such a way as to only attach to them, the theories and constraints that do the most explanatory work for us [Stanovich]. Without wishing to offer any guarantees here of increasing one's intelligence, the ideas circulating this volume nonetheless provide the reader with a window through which we might see a means of understanding, whilst reducing the frequency of, both our own and others' acts of stupidity.