Try this simple test: “Jack is looking at Anne, but Anne is looking at George. Jack is married, but George is not. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person?”
The possible answers are A) Yes; B) No, and C) Cannot be determined.
The answer follows below, but try to figure it out first.
This comes from the article Rational and Irrational Thought: The Thinking That IQ Tests Miss, by Keith E. Stanovich, Scientific American Mind, November 2009 [summary only online].
More than 80 percent of people choose C – as I did – but the correct answer is A: if Anne is married, the answer is clearly A, but if Anne is unmarried, the answer is still A: in that case, Jack would be the married person looking at an unmarried person, Anne.
Here is an explanation by Professor Stanovich, from the article:
Traditional IQ tests miss some of the most important aspects of real-world intelligence. It is possible to test high in IQ yet to suffer from the logical-thought defect known as dysrationalia.
One cause of dysrationalia is that people tend to be cognitive misers, meaning that they take the easy way out when trying to solve problems, often leading to solutions that are illogical and wrong.
Another cause of dysrationalia is the mindware gap, which occurs when people lack the specific knowledge, rules and strategies needed to think rationally.
No doubt you know several folks with perfectly respectable IQs who just don’t seem all that sharp. The behavior of such people tells us that we are missing something important by treating intelligence as if it encompassed all cognitive abilities.
I coined the term “dysrationalia” (analogous to “dyslexia”), meaning the inability to think and behave rationally despite having adequate intelligence, to draw attention to a large domain of cognitive life that intelligence tests fail to assess.
Although most people recognize that IQ tests do not measure important mental faculties, we behave as if they do. We have an implicit assumption that intelligence and rationality go together—or else why would we be so surprised when smart people do foolish things?
Book: What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought, by Keith E. Stanovich
Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid, by Robert J. Sternberg
Thinking and Deciding, by Jonathan Baron
Related post: Tripping ourselves up with blind spots
Related page: Self-limiting