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Why Smart People Can be So Stupid Hardcover – 3 May 2002


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Reprint edition (3 May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300090331
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300090338
  • Product Dimensions: 24.3 x 16.5 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,793,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Marvelous, devilishly clever, and culturally timely book.... A fascinating exploration.... All of the contributions are outstanding."

About the Author

Robert J. Sternberg is IBM Professor of Psychology and Education, and director of PACE, the Center for the Psychology of Abilities, Competencies, and Expertise at Yale University. He is the author or editor of some sixty books, including The Psychology of Love (0 300 04589 1, pb. [pound]15.95), and a widely known expert on intelligence testing.

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The title of this book, Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid, assumes that smart people at least sometimes do stupid things. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Anthony R. Dickinson on 28 Jan. 2008
Format: Hardcover
Whether one believes acting stupid to be the antithesis of acting smart or intelligently [most of us?], or perhaps prefers to regard stupid behaviour as foolishness in the face of misplaced wisdom [Sternberg], this volume brings together a rich diversity of approaches and opinion to one of life's persistent questions. Some 15 authors gather here in an attempt to inform the reader what stupidity and smartness consist in, whilst providing a breadth of examples from both the empirical literature (laboratory studies, psychometric survey) and the popular press (typically involving embarrassed politicians). Over the course of some eleven chapters, a number of recurrent themes and proposals address the ways in which stupid behaviour might best be characterised, identified or defined, but of more interest (at least to me) was to also find a number of attempts to explain the behaviours so described. A number of the contributors point (directly or indirectly) to particular instances of `stupidity' which may well have been construed as having demonstrated adaptive, rather than maladaptive behaviour under different circumstances. In this respect, the reader is repeatedly lead to the view that personal trait labels such as smart, intelligent or stupid, should be viewed as context dependant terms, if not entirely context-specific, characterisations of human behaviour. In short, what might be considered stupid behaviour under one circumstance, might well be considered smart behaviour in another. So, why do these authors think that smart people can be so stupid?Read more ›
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By MR on 17 Feb. 2003
Format: Hardcover
Good coverage of all the main issues. The chapter by Ausin and Deary probably has the most relevance to the psychology of individual differences, whereas other sections of the book seem to be targeted more at a popular audience.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 2 reviews
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
A Rationalists Guide to Stupidity ? 5 May 2003
By Anthony R. Dickinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Whether one believes acting stupid to be the antithesis of acting smart or intelligently [most of us?], or perhaps prefers to regard stupid behaviour as foolishness in the face of misplaced wisdom [Sternberg], this volume brings together a rich diversity of approaches and opinion to one of life's persistent questions. Some 15 authors gather here in an attempt to inform the reader what stupidity and smartness consist in, whilst providing a breadth of examples from both the empirical literature (laboratory studies, psychometric survey) and the popular press (typically involving embarrassed politicians). Over the course of some eleven chapters, a number of recurrent themes and proposals address the ways in which stupid behaviour might best be characterised, identified or defined, but of more interest (at least to me) was to also find a number of attempts to explain the behaviours so described. A number of the contributors point (directly or indirectly) to particular instances of `stupidity' which may well have been construed as having demonstrated adaptive, rather than maladaptive behaviour under different circumstances. In this respect, the reader is repeatedly lead to the view that personal trait labels such as smart, intelligent or stupid, should be viewed as context dependant terms, if not entirely context-specific, characterisations of human behaviour. In short, what might be considered stupid behaviour under one circumstance, might well be considered smart behaviour in another. So, why do these authors think that smart people can be so stupid?

Whilst psychometric correlates of the `smart' and `intelligent' are cited throughout the book (high IQ, high `G'-factor, either high or low scoring on various personality inventory components), no convincing data is presented in an attempt to directly correlate any independent measure of `stupidity' with psychological theory. As a result, perhaps, a significant number of this volume's authors sought to explain `stupid behaviour' as a person'sfailure to adapt to novel circumstances. However, this does little more work than to merely restate the antithesis: that `good' intelligence ontologically scaffolds in response to the need for increasingly flexible, dynamic behaviours in the face of challenges beyond the ken of one's current (and likely more reflexive) response repertoire. Using examples from business and industry, at least two chapters [Wagner and Austin & Deary] remind us that circumstances involving unfamiliar, ill-formed or poorly-defined problem spaces will more likely result in decisions thought stupid in hindsight, but they also point to conflict management as being a significant variable. Such findings serve to inform us that our attempts to transfer template problem-solutions (or indeed any previously successful habits of mind) to novel situations may later prove to have been a poor strategy (think Chamberlain & Hitler), or even complete folly (think Clinton & Lewinsky). Sociopersonal factors were also frequently cited as being of importance in explaining stupidity, with managerial incompetence in particular being shown to correlate with the (personal) emotional stability of managers, as did their degree of insensitivity to the needs and expectations of their subordinates and co-workers.

But if there is a recipe here for our avoiding stupid behaviour, such may be derived only from our interpreting the combined arguments and views put forward over the entirety of the volume. If it is true that we become good at what we spend most of our time doing (as I'm fond of telling my students is indeed the case) then this book suggests that we should devote a fair proportion of our time to recognising the significance of all our inter-, intra-, and extra-subjective personal circumstances. We need to be alert to identifying the critical changes in our situation(s) [Halpern]. We also need to be prepared to adapt to such changes (possibly in novel ways) without recourse to reflexive habit and reward by immediate gratification [Ayduk & Mischel]. Furthermore, we should strive to consider the power of uncertainty, such that we might then learn what might be (rather than concentrating our attention upon what one thinks currently `is') the case [Modeoveanu & Langer]. Furthermost, we must continue to construct and reconstruct past scenarios in such a way as to only attach to them, the theories and constraints that do the most explanatory work for us [Stanovich]. Without wishing to offer any guarantees here of increasing one's intelligence, the ideas circulating this volume nonetheless provide the reader with a window through which we might see a means of understanding, whilst reducing the frequency of, both our own and others' acts of stupidity.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
SMART REASONS TO AVOID STUPID BEHAVIOR 12 Jan. 2009
By Gian Fiero - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Warning: This book is not for everyone. I'm a college professor and I enjoyed it and will be using it primarily as a reference tool. Because of the pejorative nature of the title, some people may be expecting something a little more reader friendly with a casual tone. That's not the case at all. It's complex and filled with a lot of psychological terminologies.

Written by multiple authors who make key contributions, the book introduces a myriad of compelling reasons as to why smart people can be so stupid in each chapter. But first the definitions. Smart is the psychological concept of intelligence. Stupidity can be the property of an act, behavior, state, or person.

Intelligence seems to be domain specific, meaning that we are smart in one area, and stupid in others; hence the term: smart, but stupid. In general we recognize people as intelligent if they have some combination of these achievements: (1) good grades in school; (2) a high level of education; (3) a responsible complex job, or (4) some other recognition of being intelligent, such as winning prestigious awards or earning a large salary; (5) the ability to read complex text with good comprehension or (6) solve difficulty or novelty problems. Stupid is also defined as failure to use cognitive abilities, the opposite of smart, and mindlessness.

Perhaps the most adopted view of intelligence is defined by the American Psychological Association: the ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, and to overcome obstacles by taking thought.

These components are illuminated in the chapter called "Sex, Lies, and Audiotapes: The Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal" which exemplifies many of the lessons that are contained herein. Bill Clinton made for a great subject. You will never think of him in the same way when you are done with this chapter, but you may forgive, if not understand, why smart people can be so stupid once you've read this book.
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