“Study hard, that’s the only way to become smarter!” So many of us have heard these words from our parents in hopes that we become the smartest people we can be. But is what they’ve been saying all along really true? Why it’s Smart to be Dumb an article by Eric Haseltine Ph.D, has concluded that maybe ignorance has some merit when it comes to making correct decisions. Recognition heuristic is the main reason for this conclusion. When picking between two answers you’re more likely to choose the answer you’re most familiar with, and in most instances that’s the correct answer. This heuristic saves us time and energy that can be better spent doing other things.
To some, this idea can seem like just a lucky guess due to not knowing the right answer but the research shows that recognition heuristics can “achieve an equal or even higher inferential accuracy than more complex ones” (Pachur 2009). A study was done with older and younger adults to see if recognition heuristics could help them with decision making. The study was done by having both groups answer two questions: “Which American cities have the most inhabitants” and “Which two infectious diseases has a higher annual rate in Germany”. Afterwards they were asked which of the cities and diseases had they heard of before the experiment and tested on cognitive capacities. After gathering the data they concluded that recognition heuristics helped both groups give the correct answers when the individuals had no clue what the correct answer was to the question.
The article by Mr. Haseltine directly correlates with the study because they both point towards recognition heuristic being one of the best short cuts to seeming smarter than you actually may be. Your mind’s ability to choose quickly and accurately could be one of the reasons why mankind is still alive to this day. “If your ancestors had dawdled over recognition decisions such as “is that thing in the forest something I can eat, or something that can eat me?” they would never have actually gotten to be your ancestors because they wouldn’t have lived long enough to reproduce” (Haseltine 2010). This heuristic is not only a short cut but your brain evolving to keep you alive longer.
When discussing ignorance and recognition heuristics I think they go hand in hand. Knowing everything would cause our heuristics and our intelligence to battle against each other causing us to second guess ourselves. In order for our naturally evolved heuristic to work we have to be a little ignorant and allow our mind to work. Therefore, Haseltine’s article directly hits the importance of recognition heuristics and how it’s supposed to be used.
I personally find this topic interesting because I realize that when taking multiple choice tests and quizzes, most people say stick with your gut decision. And when you don’t know too much about the topic you mainly do stick with your gut feeling. But when you have studied hard and feel confident that you know the subject you start to find yourself second guessing and looking at the next best answer rather than your gut answer. This usually never works out for me and I end up getting the question wrong because I go with the second best guess rather than my gut feeling. My gut feeling is my natural recognition heuristic telling me that my mind recognizes the answer and although I’m unsure, I should listen to it. So the next time you’re taking a test and your get a gut feeling, remember it’s just your recognition heuristic telling you it recognizes an answer, and if you want to be correct studies show that you should go along with it.
– Haseltine, Eric. “Why It’s Smart to Be Dumb.” Psychology Today. Eric Haseltine, 10 Oct. 2010. Web. 13 Apr. 2015. <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/long-fuse-big-bang/201010/why-its-smart-be-dumb>.
– Pachur, T., Mata, R., & Schooler, L. J. (2009). Cognitive aging and the adaptive use of recognition in decision making. Psychology and Aging, 24(4), 901-915. doi:10.1037/a0017211