Outsmarting IQ: Why Attitude is as Important as Aptitude for Making Good Judgements

Making good judgements is not only about intelligence in terms of raw analytical skill, pattern-recognition, logic, scientific aptitude, intellectual capacity and so on. It’s also about having a scientific attitude and being intellectually honest.

Good judgment is not only about logic, it’s also about emotions.

Cognitive biases.

Biases are ways we deviate from rationality. Humans have a lot of them. Biases stem from a lack of scientific attitude, not from lack of scientific aptitude. Biases are an emotional problem, not a problem of our intelligence. High IQ people are equally prone to biases as everyone else.

Consider confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s prior beliefs.

The only difference with intelligent people is that they are more effective in searching for information that confirms their prior beliefs; they have more sophisticated arguments for interpreting information to match their prior beliefs; they have better recall of information that confirms their prior beliefs. The bias itself remains exactly the same.

Social Conformity.

Peer pressure is very real. Even if the pressure is implicit, people have a very strong tendency to conform to social norms. In fact, people are willing to reject basic facts in order to fit in with the group.

So does intelligence curb social conformity? No. Again, research shows that the only difference is that highly intelligent people are better at detecting and espousing the values that are normative at a particular time. In other words, they don’t outsmart social conformity, they just more accurately conform.

Intelligence is not enough.

Neither biases nor social conformity is adequately deterred by intelligence or scientific aptitude.

So what does help? A scientific attitude and intellectual honesty. More specifically:

  • Curiosity: be more likely to feel intrigued, rather than defense, when shown evidence contradicting what you already believe.
  • Openness: more likely to say it’s virtuous to test one’s beliefs. Less likely to say it’s weak to change one’s beliefs.
  • Groundedness: feeling as though your self worth isn’t tied to your beliefs.

Alright that’s nice and all, but how does having these traits actually bear out in practice? Will being curious, open and grounded actually help you have better judgement?


For example: curiosity, openness and groundedness is correlated with higher academic performance in multiple studies, even when controlling for confounding factors like IQ.

Let me say that again:

Attitude predicts grades, independent of aptitude.

Attitude is correlated with good grades.

IQ is correlated with good grades.

And perhaps more importantly, studies have shown that IQ has no correlation with scientific attitude.

Outsmarting IQ:

Think about how cognitive biases and social conformity impacts your decisions and judgements. Be open, be curious, be grounded. Above all, always seek the truth and be willing to change your mind.

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