Friday 01 January 2016

The Psychology Of Stupidity

All of us, without exception (dare I say it), have engaged in some embarrassing acts which can be described as “stupid” in hindsight. Nowadays, with the popularity of social media, there is no shortage of examples of such acts on display by inept individuals who are quick to be ridiculed in public for their mischief. Yet, the psychological bases driving these individuals to commit stupid acts are poorly understood. In 1976, economic historian Carlo Maria Cipolla proposed the “basic laws of human stupidity”, in which an individual is considered to be acting stupid if the resultant action by the individual causes harm to others while deriving no personal gain or, worse yet, causing harm to oneself in the process. Stupidity, therefore, does not mean a lack of intelligence, for intelligent individuals can still perpetrate acts that may be stupid (alas, I am among the guilty party). Likewise, stupidity differs from ignorance, since individuals who act stupidly do so willfully despite being aware of the negative consequences of their actions. Rather, the act of stupidity is best described as a maladaptive behavior in extremis, adopted by an individual in reaction to a circumstance to which a well-defined response dictated by social norms already exists. Most recently, researchers from Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary and Baylor University in the US used standard psychometric techniques to define the dimensions of so-called unintelligent behavior. They found that stupid acts are those engaged by perpetrators in which there is a disconnect between confidence and competence, a lack of self-control, or a tendency toward absentmindedness. Importantly, the degree of stupidity is directly proportional to the assumed responsibility of the perpetrators and the severity of the consequences resulted from their failure. Regardless of the scientific explanation behind stupidity, it is almost always better to think twice before acting so that we do not find ourselves rationalizing our stupid actions with equally stupid reasons.

By Philip Jong • At 01:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under World
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