The Truth About Smart and Dumb

Updated: Jan 14

In The New Yorker on June 12th, 2012, journalist Jonah Lehrer wrote this opening statement:

“Here’s a simple arithmetic question: A bat and ball cost a dollar and ten cents. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?"

The vast majority of people respond quickly and confidently, insisting the ball costs ten cents. This answer is both obvious and wrong. (The correct answer is five cents for the ball and a dollar and five cents for the bat.)”

Don’t worry, I fell for it too. Lehrer got this information from a Nobel Laureate and Princeton Professor of Psychology, Daniel Kahneman who has been studying these simple - yet stumbling - concepts of our answers for over five decades and Shane Frederick (the developer of the question). His research has profoundly changed the way we think about thinking (a concept termed metacognition). To put it simply, evidence has demonstrated that we are not nearly as rational as we would like to believe.

Lehrer goes on to beautifully explain that, “when people face an uncertain situation, they don’t carefully evaluate the information or look up relevant statistics. Instead, their decisions depend on a long list of mental shortcuts - which often lead them to make foolish decisions.”

Thus, you have smart people doing dumb things.