Wednesday, June 13, 2007

When Smart People Make Dumb Decisions

MSNBC has a brief article on decision analysis research at Carnegie Mellon. Why is it that intelligence tests and socioeconomic status aren't very reliable at predicting who may make bad decisions in real life? Some people suggest that pencil and paper tests have very little relevance to practical world problems, but Bruine de Bruin suggests that while general intelligence tests may not be that predictive, tests of reasoning will do a pretty good job sorting out who is more likely to make big mistakes in real life. Excerpt:

"...the researchers asked the subjects about their real-life experiences and how frequently they ended up in bad situations — such as having spent the night in jail or racked up credit-card debt. People who performed better on the hypothetical reasoning tests were, in fact, less likely to end up in bad situations.

"Performance on those hypothetical paper-and-pencil tasks is related to the decision outcomes people experience in their lives," she said."

We'd agree that some paper-and-pencil tests are more reliable than others at school, career, or life success. It's also important not to underestimate the influence of habit. Those who habitually critique, weigh choices, and reason, are less likely to be caught making foolish, unthinking mistakes.

We'd also like to add that reasoning is not a unitary process in the brain. In this Italian fMRI study, purely deductive reasoning (hypothetical) and deductive reasoning with a social context were found different patterns of brain activation in the decision-making process. If people factors need to be factored into the decision, then the right hemisphere also has to help out.

Poor Decision-Making by Smart People
Deductive Reasoning Within a Social Context and fMRI pdf

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