Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reason – it’s more than IQ

Temperament is what you’re born with. Character is what life does with temperament.

Things aren’t so clear with intelligence. It’s very likely that one’s maximal “IQ performance” is largely determined by genes and intrauterine environment, but even so we know that IQ measurements increase with test training. More than that, there are lots of smart people who seem unable to reason rationally.

Reason is more than IQ …

Rational and Irrational Thought- The Thinking That IQ Tests Miss- Scientific American

  • 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.
  • Tests do exist that can measure dysrationalia, and they should be given more often to pick up the deficiencies that IQ tests miss.

I’m excited by this analysis. I’d have more to say but the full article isn’t available online yet and I can’t find much extended commentary.

I can note that analyses of errors in reasoning are very old – at least as old as Greek analyses of rhetoric. In the 1970s and 1980s several excellent books on medical reasoning and diagnosis characterized common errors of cognition, and in the early 1990s my CogSci grad coursework plumbed the depths. We’ve developed an extensive language for talking about errors in reasoning.

Even so, this recent article’s explicit study of the persistently dysrational (a better term than “arational” or “dysreasonal”) feels like a useful way to reframe the discussion. From Bush to Rumsfeld to Climate change deniers we’ve seen some fairly smart to brilliant people stuck in dysrational modes. If we can understand what produces dysrationalia, and how to intervene in early life, we may take a big step towards enlightenment 2.0 and rational discourse though not universal agreement.

See also: Be the Best You can Be- IQ and reasoning - not quite the same thing


Anonymous said...

Mandatory childhood screening and treatment for dysrational mental dysfunction, authoritarian personality types, and full-up psychopathy would make a remarkably positive contribution to the welfare of humanity. As soon as these diseases can be reliably identified it's ethically imperative to make sure afflicted persons can't get into positions of authority where they can harm others.

chrismealy said...

I read author's book this summer. I've forgotten a lot of it already (I think I was more excited about the book before I read it than after). My take-away from it is that people are only smart when they know they're suppose to be smart. Otherwise they coast. I vaguely remember there were some funny experiments that show this. Unless the test is telling people they're taking a test people aren't that rational.

The critique of IQ tests is entertaining. He refers to intelligence as MAMBIT - "mental abilities measured by intelligence tests." His model of cognition is ok, but like a lot of psychological models it's hard to take it too seriously (see this diagram). He talks a lot about testing for rationality instead of intelligence but doesn't really convey what those tests would be like. I figured this all pretty new so I can cut him some slack.

Anonymous said...

"From Bush to Rumsfeld to Climate change deniers we’ve seen some fairly smart to brilliant people stuck in dysrational modes."

I think, especially in light of recent events involving twisted data, that those "climate change deniers" have been shown to be critical thinkers who can evaluate circumstances along a lengthy timeline and arrive at a rational conclusion. The dysrational ones, it seems, are the short-sighted people who ignore how often science flip-flops its position on temperature change.

JGF said...

I'd put my money down that five years from now the science will stand, and the denialists will be judged irrational.

I wish we had a climate futures market I could invest in. You could too of course, and one of us would earn a profit.