Why (and how) smart people can prove thicker than the rest of us…

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[Cough] Not looking at anyone in particular, but I’ve just come across this nice piece of research on the YouGov-Cambridge site. It’s just one reason why most of us are more than just a little suspicious of smart people. On the whole, it seems, they are thicker than the rest of us.

Over to Stefan Shakespeare:

Psychologists use the term ‘the bias blind spot’ to describe our ability to see the thinking errors of other people while not recognizing the same errors that we constantly make ourselves. The new study demonstrates something that should make us worry: the more intelligent, more sophisticated participants in the experiment showed greater flaws in their thinking.

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  • sherdy

    All brains – no sense?

  • Desmond Trellace

    “If anything, a larger bias blind spot was associated with higher cognitive ability.”

    I have always, at the very least, suspected this. But is it not logical when you think about it? The better the intellect the deeper the hole one can dig to accommodate and hide one’s prejudices.

    After all, the person whom you have to watch out for in the end is not the guy who is shouting honest sectarian abuse at you from afar but your cultured and civilized drinking partner who seems to be separated from you by a mere shade of opnion. Unnerving, eh?

  • pauluk

    So that’s what Obama’s problem is!

  • ayeYerMa

    This is why self-professed “Liberals” make so many logical errors — trying to over-analyse a situation with lofty ideals, meanwhile acting as if the instincts which are hard-coded into our DNA due to millions of years of natural selection for survival must be supressed.

  • Ruarai

    The most interesting aspect of bias arising from this thread lies not with the study cited but with the subsequent posts from those who relish the cover-for-hire available by way of its premise. Before the thickos get too excited, consider this: Attempting to celebrate one’s ignorance as a badge of superior thinking by citing an academic research paper is akin to lining your shooters up in a circular fashion and shouting fire!

    Anyways, the main point of the paper was made many years ago, only made much better, by Charles Dickens’ in Hard Times.

    Thomas Gradgrind, sir. A man of realities. A man of fact and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over. Thomas Gradgrind, sir — peremptorily Thomas — Thomas Gradgrind. With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to. It is a mere question of figures, a case simple arithmetic. You might hope to get some other nonsensical belief into the head of George Gradgrind, or Augustus Gradgrind or John Gradgrind, or Joseph Gradgrind (all suppositions, no existent persons), but into the head of Thomas Gradgrind — no sir!

    In such terms Mr. Gradgrind always mentally introduced himself, whether to his private circle of acquaintance, or to the public in general. In such terms, no doubt, substituting the words ‘boys and girls’, for ‘sir’, Thomas Gradgrind now presented Thomas Gradgrind to the little pitchers before him, who were to be filled so full of facts.

    Indeed, as he eagerly sparkled at them from the cellarage before mentioned, he seemed a kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts, and prepared to blow them clean out of the regions of childhood at one discharge. He seemed a galvanizing apparatus, too, charged with a grim mechanical substitute for the tender young imaginations that were to be stormed away.

    ‘Girl number twenty,’ said Mr. Gradgrind, squarely pointing with his square forefinger, ‘I don’t know that girl. Who is that girl?’

    ‘Sissy Jupe, sir,’ explained number twenty, blushing, standing up, and curtseying.

    ‘Sissy is not a name,’ said Mr. Gradgrind. ‘Don’t call yourself Sissy. Call yourself Cecilia.’

    ‘My father as calls me Sissy. sir,’ returned the young girl in a trembling voice, and with another curtsey.

    ‘Then he has no business to do it,’ said Mr. Gradgrind. ‘Tell him he mustn’t. Cecilia Jupe. Let me see. What is your father?’

    ‘He belongs to the horse-riding, if you please, sir.’

    Mr. Gradgrind frowned, and waved off the objectionable calling with his hand.

    ‘We don’t want to know anything about that, here. You mustn’t tell us about that, here. Your father breaks horses, does he?’

    ‘If you please, sir, when they can get any to break, they do break horses in the ring, sir.’

    ‘You mustn’t tell us about the ring, here. Very well, then Describe your father as a horsebreaker. He doctors sick horses, I dare say?’

    ‘Oh yes, sir.’

    ‘Very well, then. He is a veterinary surgeon, a farrier and horsebreaker. Give me your definition of a horse.’

    (Sissy Jupe thrown into the greatest alarm by this demand.)

    ‘Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!’ said Mr. Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers. ‘Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals! Some boy’s definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours.’

    The square finger, moving here and there, lighted suddenly on Bitzer, perhaps because he chanced to sit in the same ray of sunlight which, darting in at one of the bare windows of the intensely whitewashed room, irradiated Sissy. For, the boys and girls sat on face of the inclined plane in two compact bodies, divided up the centre by a narrow interval; and Sissy, being at the corner of a row on the other side, came in for the beginning of a sunbeam, of which Bitzer, being at the comer of a row on the other side, a few rows in advance, caught the end. But, whereas the girl was dark-eyed and dark-haired, that she seemed to receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun when it shone upon her, the boy was so light-eyed and light-haired that the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed. His cold eyes would hardly have been eyes, but for the short ends of lashes which, by bringing them into immediate contrast with something paler than themselves, expressed their form. His shortcropped hair might have been a mere continuation of the sandy freckles on his forehead and face. His skin was so unwholesomely deficient in the natural tinge, that he looked as though, if he were cut, he would bleed white.

    ‘Bitzer,’ said Thomas Gradgrind. ‘Your definition of a horse.’

    ‘Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.’ Thus (and much more) Bitzer.

    ‘Now girl number twenty,’ said Mr. Gradgrind. ‘You know what a horse is.

  • Alias

    The flaw isn’t really with the superior ability to rationalise/cover-up your mistakes but the emotional need to do so.

    There are a lot of ‘vanity thinkers’ out there who don’t arrive at conclusions via a logical process but via an emotional process. Essentially they hold political views that make them feel better about themselves. Usually you’ll find them on the liberal/left side of the debate, garnering support for their self-image by placing a prominent bleeding heart on display.

    You don’t find that kind of vanity bias with right-wingers because no one really thinks you’re a nice person when talk about cutting freebies to freeloaders and so right-winders are more logical and their political views are more solid than their lefty counterparts…

  • Mick Fealty

    Erm, right winders? Freudian, or what?

    There’s a whole body of work emerging from neuroscience that goes into the difference between right and left wingers. Not sure I buy it all, but nowhere have I seen it suggested that being either on the left or right saves you from your own cognitive biases.

    An example is the self explained idea that cutting taxes makes you a small government party, even though at the same time you ramp up federal spending. Names Bush and Reagan come to mind.

    Clinton cut the deficit because he ‘dealt’ with a right wing Congress. Lets say because he was ‘freed’ from his own biases.

  • aquifer

    So, how many silver tongued ethnic gatekeepers might we be paying to ‘educate’ our children apart?

  • babyface finlayson

    “our ability to see the thinking errors of other people while not recognizing the same errors that we constantly make ourselves.”

    ‘and would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us’

  • http://nicentreright.wordpress.com/ Seymour Major

    I understand the logic of this research but I also notice that the words “open-minded” do not feature in the post.

    This article has got me thinking about how biased thinking is most likely to affect the legal justice system.

    You could look at a Judge’s decision and think ‘His decision was unfair and biased’ but in my experience, the Judge’s bias is not usually the cause of a bad judicial decision.

    The greatest danger of a bad legal decision arises when evidence is not gathered or investigated properly.

    Anybody whose job is to gather evidence – (that includes lawyers acting for their clients as well as Police, Social Workers and other public servants) – has to be open-minded. If they are not, they are dangerous. I wish I could say that the vast majority of evidence-gatherers are open-minded. That is not my experience but then am I being biased in holding that point of view?

  • Greenflag

    Alias @ 20 November 2012 at 12:15 am

    ‘You don’t find that kind of vanity bias with right-wingers because no one really thinks you’re a nice person when talk about cutting freebies to freeloaders and so right-winders are more logical and their political views are more solid than their lefty counterparts…’

    Nonsense . If there is anything the recent USA presidential election told us it is that the vanity bias on the right or more specifically the neo con right -reached such a level of self delusion that they convinced themselves by their own ‘facts ‘ a.k.a make believe propaganda that Romney would win the election by 5 points . This in plain English is called believing your own lies .

    Meanwhile in London and Dublin , punters were picking up their winnings on Obama’s victory 24 hours before the good citizens of the USA had even voted.

    A recent New Scientist article discussed the biological /psychological foundations for the left /right divide . Sorry I can’t link the article but here’s a short excerpt . If I recall correctly thye study found ‘open mindedness ‘ was a left trait whereas closed minds dominated the right wing neo con spectrum . That should come as no surprise to anybody observing the USA election and noting the comments made by some Republican ‘intellectuals ‘ of the ilk of Akin, Mourdock , Perry , Bachmann etc etc .

    excerpt :

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21628892.100-does-your-biology-influence-your-vote.html

    JEFFREY FLAKE is an easy man to stereotype: a Republican congressman from Arizona, a former Mormon missionary and a staunch conservative. But even for somebody with his political credentials, the bill he proposed in May was a brazen move. Flake called for a billion-dollar cut in the budget of the National Science Foundation (NSF), instantly turning him into a hated figure among US scientists and liberals, a personification of “the Republican war on science”.

    Thankfully, Flake’s amendment failed. But he was back the next day with another one, this time proposing the NSF be banned from funding political science. This, the amendment said, would ensure that taxpayer dollars were not being wasted on a “meritless program”. This time the amendment passed, by 218 votes to 208. All but five of the votes in favour came from Republicans.

    Mick’s comment above- ‘but nowhere have I seen it suggested that being either on the left or right saves you from your own cognitive biases.’ seems to be true enough in general terms -but it could be down to a question of degree of bias -with the more closed minded i.e the neo con mindeset being prone to a greater degree of cognitive bias than the more open minded .

    At least it’s one explanation for the egg on the face of all those GOP pundits from Fox News etc etc and Karl Rove etc who early on gave up any pretence of looking at the numbers in any kind of objective manner ..

    And a cartoon for the lost 47%

    http://www.npr.org/2012/11/18/165312217/double-take-toons-grapes-now-47-percent-more-sour

    Meanwhile I read that former GOP President George Dubya Bush has been released from a four month silence custody in Midland , Texas . On his release Dubya’s first question was ‘Who won ‘ When told Obama won Dubya’s reply was ‘I’m delighted -that sonovabitch Romney has had me under virtual house arrest for the past 4 months -I warn’t even allowed to chop firewood in the back acre . Said I might made too many gaffes wid ma open mouth . Now they tell me Romney even outgaffed me .!

  • Alias

    “Not sure I buy it all, but nowhere have I seen it suggested that being either on the left or right saves you from your own cognitive biases.”

    That’s an example of ‘status bias’ – if folks of higher status than you don’t support it then you don’t support it either.

    But that wasn’t the actual claim: the claim was that those who have an emotional need to validate a particular self-image are predisposed to support left-wing policies.

    Their support for a particular policy is determined by how others react to it and to those who espouse it and not by any intrinsic merit of the policy. Hence, if they have an emotional need to be seen as a nice caring person they will espouse policies that convey that image to others and to themselves, seeking that validation.

    These are the types of folks who also make sure others are aware of their green credentials, support for Palestine, concern for the homeless, etc.

  • Ruarai

    One of the almost amusing aspects of some of the above is the failure to see any irony in attributing bias to others while lumping whole groups together based on ad hominem slurs.

  • Alias

    GF, there are very few opportunities for vanity bias among so-called neo-cons. There might be an ‘anti-hero bias’ where folks are predisposed to support policies that do not enjoy popular support because of a need to be seen as ‘tough/hardline/ruthless’ but that isn’t my experience of such folks. The right-winger usually have a much more solid view of the fundamentals than the left-wingers – where ‘open-minded’ is just a another way of saying that they are not rooted in any firm value or belief system but simply adopt a position according to the needs of a particular emotional bias and discard it if it no longer serves that need.

  • Ruarai

    Beyond parody

  • Alias

    Not looking at anyone in particular (to quote Mick) but would the poodle yipping at my heels google the difference between ad hominem and and out-group homogeneity effect. The latter is a cognitive bias, whereas the former is a fallacy. It might also help if said poodle googles ‘dramatic irony’ while it is at it.

  • TwilightoftheProds

    ‘The right-winger usually have a much more solid view of the fundamentals than the left-wingers – where ‘open-minded’ is just a another way of saying that they are not rooted in any firm value or belief system but simply adopt a position according to the needs of a particular emotional bias and discard it if it no longer serves that need.’

    A political analysis of the right and left which makes the two dimensional simplicities of Ayn Rand look like Edmund Burke by comparison.

  • Ruarai

    Generous Twilight, very generous.

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    Does this report somehow confirm the saying about BS baffling brains?

  • pauluk

    GF,
    I think old Hitchens had it right when he said George Bush jokes are now what only stupid people laugh at!