The world we live in places a lot of value on the role of education and intellect. A person’s achievements in climbing the top ranks of education institutions prove one’s intelligence and the ability to make rational decisions. Often, an entire country depends on the decision-making and rationality of an elite group of smart people. However, intelligent people also do stupid things. In this video from BBC, psychologists pointed to various reasons as to why intelligent people do stupid things.The barriers to rational thinking and behaviour include emotions, beliefs, competition, and cognitive miserliness. Cognitive miserliness points to our mind’s tendency to make judgemental shortcuts that get us to go where we want quickly, but it also sends us off course sometimes. Although humans can be dispassionate rationally while measuring and analyzing their thought processes, psychologists have found this way of rationalising often demonstrates several attribution biases including fundamental attribution error.
Another reason why intelligent people do stupid things is due to motivated reasoning. Motivated reasoning is a strong emotional belief that causes smart people to think in a very one-sided manner. Just take a look at the polarised politics from the U.S. to Europe and how we irrationally hang on to an unhealthy love affair and you see motivated reasoning in action.
Then, there is the curse of the expert mind. You may have met people who seem to know everything. With almost every information you share with them, they reply with the answer, “I know”. Or, you may have met those who can’t wait to dish out solutions before giving a proper listening ear to the problem. An expert mind could be linked to cognitive miserliness where we tend to judge and find a shortcut to a solution based on a past concept we have learnt. It shows the human mind’s limitation in time, knowledge, attention and cognitive resources.
Lastly, we may find that competition and innovation drive progress, but as BBC explained in the video, that is not the case. Competition breeds ego and too many egos in a team get you nowhere.
Mindfulness has been proven to help reduce bias by training the mind to pay attention and the regulation of emotion in present-moment experiences. Although it takes an eight-week practice to establish a mindfulness practice routine, it is well worth your time especially if you are an intelligent person tasked with making decisions for a group of people.