How to be less stupid, according to psychologists: Tone down that ‘confident ignorance’

Interesting study and characterization of the three kinds of stupidity (and how awareness and mindfulness are key to reducing it):

What they found is that people tend to agree about what deserves to be called stupid and what doesn’t — remarkably, there was a roughly 90 per cent rate of agreement. They also learned that there are, it seems, three situations, that we tend to use the word stupid for. Three scenarios, characterized by specific types of behavior, that make people cringe or laugh or put their hands to their forehead.

The first is what Aczel and his team call “confident ignorance.” It’s when a person’s self-perceived ability to do something far outweighs that person’s actual ability to do it, and it’s associated with the highest level of stupidity.

Think of a drunk driver, who wrongly believes he or she is perfectly capable of manning the wheel. Or a burglar, who, meaning to steal a phone, instead plucks a GPS device, which leads the police straight to him.

People don’t just find this type of behavior stupid — they seem to associate it with the highest level of stupidity. These were given a mean stupidity score of 8.5 out of 10, a good deal higher than that for any other.

“The stupidest thing someone can do is overestimate themselves,” he said. “What that tells us is that you don’t have to have a low IQ, in people’s eyes, to act stupidly. You just have to misperceive your abilities.”

The second thing we use the word stupid to describe is when someone does something because they have, on some level, lost their ability to do otherwise.

Aczel calls this “lack of control” and characterizes it as the result of “obsessive, compulsive, or addictive behavior.” He offers the example of a person who decides to cancel plans with a good friend in order to keep playing video games at home.

The third type of behavior people like to call stupid is what Aczel coins “absentmindedness — lack of practicality.” It’s an either/or scenario, in which someone does something that’s clearly irrational, but for a reason that could be one of two things: they either weren’t paying attention or simply weren’t aware of something.

Think of someone who, having overfilled their car tires, ends up on the side of the road with a flat. That person either forgot to pay attention while filling the tires or didn’t know that he or she needed to do so in the first place. And we’re apt to call both of those scenarios stupid, albeit less stupid than the previous examples.

In some ways, Aczel’s research recalls the famous and oft-quoted scene from “Forrest Gump,” in which Tom Hanks, asked whether he’s crazy or just plain stupid, quips, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

These stupidity categories can potentially predict what environmental or inner states increase the likelihood that one would behave in a way that others could call stupid

The research, as it turns out, offers important lessons for all of us, because what we choose to call stupid actually has a significant impact on our behavior. As Aczel and his colleagues write in their paper:

“These stupidity categories can potentially predict what environmental or inner states increase the likelihood that one would behave in a way that others could call stupid. For example, ingested substances or excessive social support can promote confidence disproportionate to competence.

Executing habitual behaviors or multi-tasking can lead to absent-mindedness. Intensive affective states can result in failure of behavior control. Our findings would suggest that these environmental or inner contexts make us more susceptible to commit foolishness. An interaction of individual differences and environmental factors may serve as predictors for people’s propensity to show behavior that others would label as stupid.”

Source: How to be less stupid, according to psychologists: Tone down that ‘confident ignorance’