30 October 2009

Intelligence vs. Judgment: Is Dysrationalia Leading to the Downfall of Modern Civilisation?

U. of Toronto Psychologist Keith Stanovich has spent many years looking at "rational thought", and how IQ tests fail to measure the essence of human "rationality."  Stanovich uses the label "dysrationalia" for persons who have high IQ, but who exhibit faulty judgment.  He says that modern society is top-heavy with dysrational individuals of high intelligence, but low "rationality."
Intelligence tests measure important things, but they do not assess the extent of rational thought. This might not be such a grave omission if intelligence were a strong predictor of rational thinking. But my research group found just the opposite: it is a mild predictor at best, and some rational thinking skills are totally dissociated from intelligence.

...Critics of intelligence tests have long pointed out that the tests ignore important parts of mental life, mainly non-cognitive domains such as socio-emotional abilities, empathy, and interpersonal skills. But intelligence tests are also radically incomplete as measures of cognitive functioning, which is evident from the simple fact that many people display a systematic inability to think or behave rationally despite having a more than adequate IQ. For a variety of reasons, we have come to overvalue the kinds of thinking skills that intelligence tests measure and undervalue other important cognitive skills, such as the ability to think rationally.

...Intelligence tests measure mental skills that have been studied for a long time, whereas psychologists have only recently had the tools to measure the tendencies toward rational and irrational thinking. Nevertheless, recent progress in the cognitive science of rational thought suggests that nothing – save for money – would stop us from constructing an “RQ” test.

Such a test might prove highly useful. Suboptimal investment decisions have, for example, been linked to overconfidence in knowledge judgments, the tendency to over-explain chance events, and the tendency to substitute affective valence for thought. Errors in medical and legal decision-making have also been linked to specific irrational thinking tendencies that psychologists have studied.

There are strategies and environmental fixes for the thinking errors that occur in all of these domains. But it is important to realize that these thinking errors are more related to rationality than intelligence. They would be reduced if schools, businesses, and government focused on the parts of cognition that intelligence tests miss.... _Stanovich
Stanovich makes some excellent points, and an "RQ" test might prove extremely useful for modern institutions. Of course, if such a test were implemented, most college professors would have to be fired along with most media executives, government officials, and UN diplomats. But that would be a small price to pay for a more "rational" society.

My main quibble with Stanovich is with his use of the word "rational." Rationality should not be confused with "good judgment". IQ tests actually measure rationality quite well -- within the confines of the test. But IQ tests cannot measure the judgment required in using rational thought for widely varying circumstances.

The idea of rationality comes from the root "ratio", which implies the ability to splice, dice, and parse observable reality to its core. Sound logical deduction. Reductionism par excellence. Obviously, that is not the meaning that Stanovich uses for the concept of rationality.

In fact, there are many situations where rational thinking should be suspended in favour of more creative approaches such as lateral thinking. The entire basis of human conscious experience -- inductive inference and model building -- is a non-rational phenomenon, based upon pre-verbal metaphor. Rationality simply isn't in it.

But substituting the term "good judgment" where Stanovich uses "rationality" removes the smoke and fog, making the extreme importance of Stanovich's argument clear and compelling.

More: Here is an excellent example of a case where judgment might easily trump pure IQ. Knowing what to expect when you travel down a particular road can mean the difference between life and death.

Of course, the higher up the chain that a person with poor judgment is promoted, the more people that are likely to suffer.

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Blogger neil craig said...

I think you are wrong about professors, media executives, politicians & diplomatic officials not behaving rationally.

If they are serving our interests as the job description says then much behaviour is irrational but covering your own ass whatever the effect on achievement is perfectly rational. The problem is to design a social structure which encourages/rewards useful behaviour. Free markets nornally, though not always, do this.

Saturday, 31 October, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

Right. Which is why I put "rational" in quotation marks.

Corruption is rational for officials of all stripes, if the benefits outweigh the risks.

In the Obama era of "the Chicago way", corruption is almost the only thing you see at all levels.

Stanovich's dysrationalia may be a hybrid of unremarked corruption and poor judgment.

Sunday, 01 November, 2009  

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