In thinking through any complex issue, there are going to be different possible solutions and perspectives.
Ideally, a smart and critical thinker would reason through the pros and cons of the different possibilities and come to a balanced view of the issue.
Yet a great deal of research finds that people tend to just consider what they favor about one side. We see this “myside bias” all the time in the real world.
It’s also easy to produce in the lab. This cognitive bias has been found in research on intuitive decision making, argumentation, overconfidence, and confirmation bias.
But highly intelligent people reason better than the rest, don’t they? They are less susceptible to cognitive biases like the myside bias – aren’t they?
Keith Stanovich of the University of Toronto, and his colleagues Richard West and Maggie Toplak have tried to find out.
They reviewed the research linking intelligence to the myside bias. Their paper, Myside Bias, Rational Thinking, and Intelligence was published in Current Directions in Psychological Science.
A number of studies have now been conducted on intelligence and the myside bias. I’ll just share a couple of brief examples from the review to give the idea.
In one study, subjects read about a controversial issue, such as whether or not people should be allowed to sell their own organs. Then, they wrote their thoughts about it. The researchers found the typical myside bias.
People mostly wrote arguments favoring their own position. They did not tend to integrate arguments across different perspectives, which would indicate critical thinking.
The researchers also assessed intelligence. They found that people who scored more highly on the intelligence test showed just as much of the cognitive bias as the rest. They found no link between intelligence and myside bias.
In a second study, subjects evaluated arguments, rather than writing them out. They were again shown controversial issues, such as abortion and lowering the drinking age.
For each issue, the researchers had put together short position papers. Some of these positions were one-sided. For example, all of the arguments would be for lowering the drinking age, or all would be against. Others integrated the different perspectives, and were completely balanced.
One interesting finding was that people preferred the one-sided positions regardless of the direction. They didn’t like the more integrated perspectives. The researchers also did find the strong cognitive bias in favor of the person’s own side. Finally, neither of the previous findings was related to intelligence.
People with high IQ reasoned just like everyone else.
In everyday discussion, intelligence and rational thinking are often treated as “close cousins,” or even as one and the same thing. Yet, that does not appear to be the case in actual assessments of intelligence and cognitive bias.
That is, whatever it is that intelligence tests actually get at, they do not measure the extent of a person’s cognitive bias or rationality.
Balanced, rational thinking may well be at least as, if not more important than IQ to what it really means to be smart in the modern world.
Image Credit: futureatlas.com
Bogus study. Consult Stanovich’s other studies & books, and look at the correlations of IQ with a laundry list of ccognitive biases: in all cases, you will find that IQ positively correlates (albeit weakly & sometimes very weakly) with resistance to cognitive biases. The more intelligent *are* less biased. (The novelty of Stanovich’s research has always been that the intelligent people’s advantage on biases is not nearly as strong as their advantage on almost any other cognitive task.) This study cherrypicked a few ‘biases’… where being ‘biased’ is the rational response to being intelligent. ‘Myside bias’ is rational when you really are less biased than most people around you.
For a more detailed discussion of why this study doesn’t mean anything like how it’s been sold to the public, see http://lesswrong.com/lw/d1u/the_new_yorker_article_on_cognitive_biases/
Winston Sieck says
Thanks for the thoughts, Gwern. Agreed that there are cognitive biases that do correlate with IQ. In their review paper (linked above), Stanovich et al. mention belief bias in particular, which is more about being able to engage in valid logical deductions even when the premises are at real odds with the world as we know it. In that case, Stanovich and colleagues suggest that greater intelligence is associated with greater ability to think hypothetically – that is, to imagine “if” that really weird fact was actually true. The present focus of the studies they review (not just a single study) and the post is on the “myside” cognitive bias, which is more relevant in naturalistic situations (in my view, though hinted at in the paper, as well). Myside cognitive bias has shown not only non-significant, but very near zero correlations with intelligence. The lesswrong post you shared (thanks for that, BTW – very nice) is about a slightly different issue, though it offers the following incidental support for conclusions given here: “Thus, the bias blind spot joins a small group of other effects such as myside bias [emphasis added] and noncausal base-rate neglect (Stanovich & West, 2008b; Toplak & Stanovich, 2003) in being unmitigated by increases in intelligence.” As an aside, one small complaint with that post is that they move away from intelligence to the conceptually more slippery idea of “cognitive sophistication” when discussing correlation with cognitive biases – cognitive sophistication could mean lots of things, including that one is rational or cognitively unbiased. Easy to wind up with a tautological argument that way.
I think a common misperception of cognitive bias is that it is inherently irrational.
On the contrary, cognitive bias is most of the time a group of assumptions made based on the collection of past experiences that the person has had. It’s not that the person consciously rejects the existence of other sides in the argument, but rather has engaged in critical thinking towards a topic of interest.
If I have my definition of cognitive bias right, then it doesn’t seem like it would be the result of irrationality. Instead, on the most basic level preferential treatment is given towards one line of reasoning over the others, regardless of the content of the reasoning.
You are right: inherently irrational.
Still its function may disapear from the brain relatively to the sophistication of the set of perception of the external world.
I can say its functionality is non workable in highly bright peoples set of perception…. therefore I think cosciousness have relation with intelligence SOMEHOW.
Certainly lower than 110 IQ, all of them…..
Go further, or englobe more of the variation of intelligence represented in the bell curve, preferably untill 130 IQ, and you will have different results than the ones showed in this incomplete study.
Somethings only start happening after a certain level…. and thats important information.
Winston Sieck says
Interesting conjectures. I doubt your claim that all of the studies included people only with IQs less than 110. Still the general point is a good one for Stanovich.
This article is interesting. I think that this is a very cool website when it comes to observing what intelligence has to offer.
I’m just starting to study the subject. I find this troubling. I think there may be a subset of the more intelligent people who are strongly indoctrinated into the hazards of bias. They look for it like smoke means fire. They also know that believing they are being careful can itself induce bias. They overtly strive to be empathetic of alternate views. While I have no problem with the idea that everyone is subject to bias, I have a problem with the idea that there is no set of people that are significantly more resistant to it. It would take many more studies, including some that somehow tried to address this. As in, for example, a study with two sets of people that were screened as objectively as possible to be of similar distribution of intelligence. (I’m no statistician so Idk how important that is or how reliably it can be ‘allowed for’. Anyway, the study set is then trained, at some length in many known trapping of bias, perhaps including discussion and creative sessions. Immersed in bias related concepts etc. And told the testing will be to measure their bias. The controls receive no training and are not informed of what the testing is for. Compare results across all levels of intelligence. I know this would be a unfocused study. Perhaps of little use, but perhaps also better test designers could find some version that could be most useful. And of course have there been no studies that do show a wide difference in bias in general? (not considering any other known traits such as intelligence). It would only take a small number in a large set to show it’s not universal. Also, (in consideration of testing methods) do we know if there are certain types or complexity levels of thought tasks that can tend to produce more or less similar bias levels (possibly with correlation to intelligence, and not). (I shouldn’t write when so sleepy, lol. ) And what are all the known or theorized ’causes’ of bias. Could not a unconscious concern for expediency be a concern? What if additionally subjects were told to avoid bias at all costs, without deadline. Told lack of bias was only goal, no regard to how long it took to reduce. Could bais at to some small degree simply reflect ‘natural’ expediency? Likewise, subject to there were always biased and there goal was to find all occurrences? ok ok goodnight.