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The Intelligence Trap

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The Intelligence Trap

Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes

W.W. Norton,

15 min read
10 take-aways
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Sometimes, intelligent people do stupid things.

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A high IQ can be meaningless if you’re not thinking soundly, and bright people can misuse their intelligence to reinforce biases. Being smart, it turns out, is not the same as being wise. Author David Robson explains the ways intelligent people form erroneous and even irrational opinions. He links the latest research findings about improving mental flexibility and beating the “traps” of intelligence to interesting stories about how smart people made big mistakes.


Lewis Terman developed the IQ test to measure general intelligence and predict future success.

The success of those with high IQs later in life seemed to prove Lewis Terman was correct about general intelligence: No matter their path in life, those with higher intelligence seemed to do well. But too often they just encountered better treatment and received better opportunities. Most people assume that high intelligence also means high common sense and better judgment. Terman’s test evaluates verbal, mathematical and abstract reasoning skills. It’s the basis for standardized tests like the SAT and GRE, which universities use routinely to measure academic achievement. While useful, they don’t comprehensively measure a person’s “total intellectual potential.”

Robert Sternberg developed the Triarchic Theory of Successful Intelligence which measures three aptitudes: “creative, practical” and “analytical” intelligence. Creative intelligence measures a person’s ability to imagine and invent. Practical intelligence involves planning and executing an idea, and it incorporates experience in problem solving. Sternberg warns that emphasizing...

About the Author

Journalist David Robson’s work has appeared in BBC Future, New Scientist, The Atlantic and other publications.

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