… says an expert on human development and applied psychology at the University of Toronto. He says “institutions still devote far more attention and resources to intelligence than to teaching people how to think in order to reach their goals.” Only recently have psychologists come up with the tools to measure rational and irrational thinking. The article suggests that RQ tests or Rational Quotient tests could be constructed that would be “highly useful” to eliminate errors in medical and legal decision-making for example. It also suggests that schools, businesses and government should focus on those rational thinking skills that intelligence tests miss.
The kind of smart that IQ tests miss Tuesday, April 7, 2009
IN 2002, cognitive scientist Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University won the Nobel Prize in Economics for work done with his longtime collaborator Amos Tversky (who died in 1996). Their research had to do with judgment and decision-making – what makes our thoughts and actions rational or irrational. They explored how people make choices and assess probabilities, and uncovered basic errors that are typical in decision-making.
The thinking errors they uncovered are not trivial mistakes in a parlour game. To be rational means to adopt appropriate goals, take the appropriate action given one’s goals and beliefs, and hold beliefs that are commensurate with available evidence. It means achieving one’s life goals using the best means possible. To violate the thinking rules examined by Kahneman and Tversky thus has the practical consequence that we are less satisfied with our lives than we might be. Research conducted in my own laboratory has indicated that there are systematic individual differences in the judgment and decision-making skills that Kahneman and Tversky studied.
Intelligence tests measure important things, but they do not assess the extent of rational thought. This might not be such a grave omission if intelligence were a strong predictor of rational thinking. But my research group found just the opposite:It is a mild predictor at best, and some rational thinking skills are totally dissociated from intelligence.
Ironically, the Nobel Prize was awarded for studies of cognitive characteristics that are entirely missing from the most well-known mental assessment device in the behavioural sciences: intelligence tests. Scientists and laypeople alike tend to agree that ‘good thinking’ encompasses sound judgment and decision-making – the type of thinking that helps us achieve our goals. Yet assessments of such good (rational) thinking are nowhere to be found on IQ tests.
Intelligence tests measure important things, but they do not assess the extent of rational thought. This might not be such a grave omission if intelligence were a strong predictor of rational thinking. But my research group found just the opposite: It is a mild predictor at best, and some rational thinking skills are totally dissociated from intelligence.
To an important degree, intelligence tests determine the careers of millions of people. Children are given intelligence tests to determine eligibility for admission to school programmes for the gifted. Corporations and the military depend on assessments that are little more than disguised intelligence tests.
Perhaps some of this attention to intelligence is necessary, but what is not warranted is the tendency to ignore cognitive capacities that are at least equally important: the capacities that sustain rational thought and action.
Critics of intelligence tests have long pointed out that the tests ignore important parts of mental life, mainly non-cognitive domains such as socio-emotional abilities and interpersonal skills. But intelligence tests are also radically incomplete as measures of cognitive functioning, which is evident from the simple fact that many people display a systematic inability to think or behave rationally despite having a more than adequate IQ. For a variety of reasons, we have come to overvalue the kinds of thinking skills that intelligence tests measure and undervalue other important cognitive skills, such as the ability to think rationally.
Psychologists have studied the major classes of thinking errors that make people less than rational. They have studied people’s tendencies to show incoherent probability assessments; to be overconfident in knowledge judgments; to ignore the alternative hypothesis; to evaluate evidence with a ‘my side’ bias; to show inconsistent preferences because of framing effects; to over-weigh short-term rewards at the expense of long-term well-being; to allow decisions to be affected by irrelevant context; and so on.
All of these categories of failure of rational judgment are very imperfectly correlated with intelligence – meaning IQ tests tend not to capture individual differences in rational thought. IQ tests measure mental skills that have been studied for a long time, whereas psychologists have only recently had the tools to measure the tendencies towards rational and irrational thinking. Nevertheless, recent progress in the cognitive science of rational thought suggests that nothing could stop us from constructing an ‘RQ’ test.
Such a test might prove highly useful. Sub-optimal investment decisions have, for example, been linked to overconfidence in knowledge judgments, the tendency to over-explain chance events, and the tendency to substitute affective valence for thought. Errors in medical and legal decision-making have also been linked to specific irrational thinking tendencies that psychologists have studied.
There are strategies and environmental fixes for the thinking errors that occur in all of these domains. But it is important to realise that these thinking errors are more related to rationality than intelligence. They would be reduced if schools, businesses and government focused on the parts of cognition that intelligence tests miss.
Instead, these institutions still devote far more attention and resources to intelligence than to teaching people how to think in order to reach their goals. It is as if intelligence has become totemic in our culture. But what we should really be pursuing is development of the reasoning strategies that could substantially increase human well-being.
The writer is professor of human development and applied psychology at the University of Toronto.
What intelligence tests miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought
by Keith Stanovich
‘IQ tests should replace exams’
The Independent (London, England), June 26, 1995 by Lesley Gerrard (Extract below)
IQ tests for children should replace GCSE and A-level exams, according to an Oxford University educationalist. Dr James Tooley, of the Department of Educational Studies at Oxford, says the assessment system is not a useful indicator of intelligence, diligence or a student’s later employability. He claims tests such as GCSE are “degrading to the aims of a liberal education”.
Dr Tooley reopens the controversial debate over IQ and intelligence in an essay in this month’s Journal of the Institute of Economic Affairs. “If it is intelligence which interests employers, then we do not need to sort students with GCSE, A-levels and so on. IQ tests are far more efficient,” he says.
Getting smart about IQ U.S. News & World Report Nov 23, 1987 by Art Levine (Extract below)
New research suggests that many people are brainier than you might think. Whatever happened to the good old-fashioned IQ test? These days, the notion that a single number–the “intelligence quotient’–can gauge how smart we are is under fresh attack. A new wave of psychologists and educators are redefining what intelligence really is– and devising ways to improve thinking skills once thought to be fixed for life.
Until recently, much of the controversy over IQ tests had focused on whether the skills and aptitudes measured by traditional intelligence tests are culturally biased against black students.
3 thoughts on “Rationality more important than intelligence: IQ tests miss detecting some rational thinking skills totally”
All this ‘EQ’ and ‘interpersonal skills’ rhetoric is just a fancy way of saying, ‘a middle class mental map that identifies rational means of advancing oneself and gaining financial independence’.
This is why clever working class kids make irrational decisions (studying politics or the fine arts, if they study at all), because their mental maps of the plutocratic oligarchy and its loaded inequities are so inaccurate. This man has won the Nobel prize for identifying nothing of interest at all, and even then describing it wrongly.
Interesting article. As for the comment in the box below it about working class kids, other sorts of intelligence , etc – where to even begin responding to it? A prime example of intellect not amounting to intelligence, let alone wisdom.
[…] … says an expert on human development and applied psychology at the University of Toronto. He says “institutions still devote far more attention and resources to intelligence than to teaching people how to think in order to reach their goals.” Only recently have psychologists come up with the tools to measure rational and irrational thinking. Rationality more important than intelligence: IQ tests miss detecting some rational thinking skills … […]