Teschler on Topic
Leland Teschler • Executive Editor
On Twitter @ DW_LeeTeschler
Here’s an interesting task for you. Decide whether the following conclusion is true based only on the opening two premises:
• All living things need water.
• Roses need water.
Therefore, roses are living things.
You made a mistake if you decided the conclusion was true. But don’t feel bad. University of Toronto researcher Keith Stanovich, who originally composed this little test, says 70% of university students screw it up. The key is to realize that “all living things need water” isn’t the same as “all things that need water are living.” What makes the problem difficult to see is that the conclusion sounds sensible and jibes with what you already know.
In fact, a significant number of people who score high on IQ tests don’t do well when navigating logical puzzles like this one. And an inability to reason through such exercises has larger implications about how people botch decisions pertaining to everyday problems.
This realization led Stanovich and his research group to develop what’s called the Comprehensive Assessment of Rational Thinking, a prototype test meant to gauge rational thought. It attempts to measure cognitive biases as well as probabilistic and statistical reasoning skills, including the ability to assess risk. The idea is that eventually, employers could use such tests to weed out potential employees who lack good decision-making skills.
Engineers stuck with managers having a reputation for illogical decisions might wish such a test was already in place. Bad managers are living proof that even people with sterling academic credentials and high IQs don’t necessarily take a rational approach to everyday problems.
A formal confirmation of this idea comes from researcher Wändi Bruine de Bruin who, while at Carnegie Mellon University, ran decision-making tests on people with a range of educational backgrounds and in diverse age groups. The tests measured qualities such as how well participants realized the limits of their own knowledge, recognized social norms, or were fooled by how problems were framed. Her group also asked participants about whether they experienced stressful events such as a suspension from school or losing their driver’s license.
It turned out that those who scored high on decision making were less likely to have these sorts of difficult life experiences, regardless of their educational backgrounds. Additional confirmation comes from writer David Robson who, in his book called The Intelligence Trap, chronicles a London School of Economics study which discovered that people with high IQs are just as likely as less intelligent citizens to face financial distresses like missing mortgage payments and high debt. These facts are particularly surprising, Robson says, given that more intelligent and better-educated people tend to have more stable jobs with higher salaries. The implication is that financial problems are a consequence of their decision making rather than a lack of earning power.
The good thing about these findings is that they are becoming more widely known. So in a perfect world, more people will be promoted into management for their rational thinking styles rather than for reasons (such as who they know) that are less indicative of good decision making. DW