Thought Catalog
June 24, 2015

20 Reasons Why The World Is Full Of Dumb People Who Think They’re Smart

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Benjamin Chun
Benjamin Chun

1. The average IQ is 100. It has always been 100 and it will always be 100 because the test is graded on a curve with 100 indicating “average.” It’s a test that compares the test taker to their peers. It’s fine to have a 100 IQ. It’s perfectly average. [Source]

2. IQ measures reasoning and problem-solving ability and nothing else. It doesn’t measure curiosity or creativity. [Source]

3. Environmental factors can affect IQ greatly, as much as 15 points. Studies of children from poorer backgrounds who’ve then been adopted by solidly middle class families reveal that this phenomenon is real. [Source]

4. Apples to apples, people have gotten better at the skills, such as reasoning from given data, that go into taking an IQ test. If you compared people from 2015 to people from, say, 1960, the people from 2015 would have higher scores. [Source]

5. So, that’s what IQ is, it measures reasoning ability, it’s graded on a curve, and 100 is average.

6. There’s a description of a phenomenon that’s out there known as the Downing Effect which states that the lower a person’s IQ is, the more likely they are to think they have a higher IQ than average. As an example, someone with a 90 IQ might think they have a 120 IQ or someone with a 100 IQ might think they have a 140 IQ. [Source]

7. On the other end of the spectrum, people with high IQs are more likely to underestimate their own IQ and overestimate the IQs of those with IQs similar to their own. In short, they underestimate themselves and overestimate people similar to themselves. [Source]

8. Men are likely to estimate their IQ as being five points higher than it actually is. [Source]

9. Women are likely to underestimate their own IQ. [Source]

10. This is what David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the first observers of the Dunning Effect, had to say about it by way of explanation. “The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.” Ouch. [Source]

11. They used the following example in their study of someone who wasn’t smart but thought they were smart:

In 1995, McArthur Wheeler walked into two Pittsburgh banks and robbed them in broad daylight, with no visible attempt at disguise. He was arrested later that night, less than an hour after videotapes of him taken from surveillance cameras were broadcast on the 11 o’clock news. When police later showed him the surveillance tapes, Mr. Wheeler stared in incredulity. “But I wore the juice,” he mumbled. Apparently, Mr. Wheeler was under the impression that rubbing one’s face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to videotape cameras. [Source]

12. In short, Dunning and Kruger discovered that the less intelligent you are, the more confident you’re likely to be that you know what you’re doing and the more likely you are to be wrong. Being unsure, in this context, is often a mark of intelligence.

13. This goes directly into how people view themselves and their abilities. For instance, most people think they’re above average when that literally cannot be true. As an example, in a 1977 study of how professors viewed their own performance, 94% said they were above average at their jobs. [Source]

14. University of Michigan Professor of Psychology Richard Nesbitt states that having a high IQ is no indicator of success, however. He believes that curiosity is. Without being curious, a person who is intelligent won’t ever use their intelligence to learn and form new ideas. This isn’t just some quaint anecdote by Nesbitt to make people with lower IQs feel better. It matters greatly as you’ll see in just a moment. [Source]

15. At the same time, a person with a lower IQ would, it seems, be less likely to question themselves or the world around them in the first place because of the Dunning Effect. As a result, it seems they would also be unlikely to ever use what intelligence they had to learn new things and question their own misperceptions.

16. This thinking you’re smarter or better than you are doesn’t stop at persons with average to below average intelligence though. It extends into the realm of those who really are at least fairly intelligent. A survey of MBA students at Stanford in 2000 revealed that 87% believed they were better academically than their peers. 10% believed they were below average. People desperately believe they’re smart because they desperately want to see themselves as smart and sometimes because they really can’t tell. [Source]

17. Interestingly, that small number of self doubters, 10%, roughly corresponds with how many people there are with objectively high IQs.

via wiki commons

The interval of 115-130 indicates a high level of intelligence. Higher than 130 means your IQ is higher than 97.9% of the population, most everyone. 145 or higher and you’re reaching into genius territory. If we take the Dunning Effect at face value then it could well be that the 10% of Stanford MBA students who thought they were below average were actually above average. Though, more likely, some where highly intelligent and others had objectively bad grades and knew it.

18. Of course, long before studies were around to confirm this tendency to overestimate ourselves, philosophers already knew we were doing it. Consider this quote by Confucius:

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”

Which is to say that intelligence is the ability to recognize your weaknesses. As the Dunning Effect states, less intelligent individuals are less likely to be able to do this while more intelligent individuals are. Of course there’s always the curiosity and environmental factors which frankly seem to be wild cards and we’ll talk about that next.

19. Here’s where we look at the effects of hard work on success and by success I simply mean the ability to learn and do well at a given task or meet a given goal. Compared to intelligence, those wild cards of curiosity and environmental factors such as parents who instill a strong work ethic are far, far more important. Per this Brookings Institute study:

“A growing body of empirical research demonstrates that people who possess certain character strengths do better in life in terms of work, earnings, education and so on, even when taking into account their academic abilities. Smarts matter, but so does character.”

20. So what does all this say about smarts and success? Well, it says that being smart is great and being less intelligent is a challenge. It also says that the ability to engage in self questioning consistently and to work towards self improvement are values as well as innate tendencies among the very intelligent. It’s this behavior that matters the most and it’s why GPA is a better indicator of success in college than any standardized testing.

Anyone can ask “but am I wrong” and then work to correct it but if you never ask the question you’ll just keep bumbling forward.

After all, there are many average people out there who think they’re brilliant simply because they don’t bother to question themselves. “It’s everyone else that’s wrong,” they say as they cover their faces in lemon juice. TC mark

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