The pic of Stephen Hawking above is by no way any means of insinuating that he's both smart and dumb, but in a new study that was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, it suggests that you can be insanely intelligent and still fail when it comes to simple problems because of deviations in judgement, otherwise known as "cognitive bias".
That's the mystery of the brain for you. When new and uncertain situations meet, it virtually always abandons analysis and instead resorts to a host of mental shortcuts. Which is plain sense, sometimes, no matter how smart you are, you could also be dumb.
Researchers from the University of Toronto gave 484 students a questionnaire of a classic bias problem to complete. It goes like this:
A bat and ball cost a dollar and ten cents. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
Given that you are in a rush, you might jump the gun and think that the ball costs ten cents. But that's the wrong answer. It's five. If you got it wrong, don't despair. Blame it on your brain for making some shortcuts if that made sense to you because you just abandoned math when you look at the problem.
More than 50 percent of students at Harvard, MIT and Princeton gave the incorrect answer.
This phenomenon is known as "anchoring bias" where the researchers were really interested in assessing how the biases correlated with intelligence. What they did next was to interspersed tests with cognitive measures.
Awareness of bias in one's thinking doesn't help, the researchers explain: "people who were aware of their own biases were not better able to overcome them.". And being intelligent doesn't help either. The researchers explain that the "more cognitively sophisticated participants showed larger bias blind spots." Also translated to, the smarter you are, the dumber you could actually be.
Nobody really knows why, but the best hypothesis to this yet suggests that its tied up in the way we perceive ourselves and others. Or that we could be processing too much information, information we know, and some researchers suggest that it makes it far easier for us to spot biases in other people than it is to notice ourselves while we make the same mistakes.