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Rationality, the ability to be make judgments and decisions in a fact-based and reasonable manner, is different from intelligence and, in fact, may have little to do with rationality. Someone can have an intelligent and quick mind, but that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily rational when applying previous knowledge.
Irrational thinking is just inherent in humans. According to a recent New York Times article by Alexander Burgoyne, “We ignore information about the prevalence of events when judging their likelihood. We fail to consider alternative explanations. We evaluate evidence in a manner consistent with our prior beliefs. And so on. Humans, it seems, are fundamentally irrational.” Even those with strong critical thinking skills can fall into the trap of allowing our personal biases to impact our decision-making.
But, unlike intelligence (the raw cognitive horsepower we’re born with), new studies are showing that the propensity for reflective thought—being able to step back from your own thinking and correct its faulty tendencies—can be improved through training. In studies published last year in Policy Insights From the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, psychologist Carey Morewedge had subjects complete a test to measure their susceptibility to decision-making bias. Following the test, some subjects were offered feedback on their results, and then tested again several months later.
“Professor Morewedge and colleagues found that the computer training led to statistically large and enduring decreases in decision-making bias. In other words, the subjects were considerably less biased after training, even after two months,” says Burgoyne. “While there is scant evidence that any sort of ‘brain training’ has any real-world impact on intelligence, it may well be possible to train people to be more rational in their decision making.”
While we have repeatedly stated to our clients, intelligence and critical thinking are not going to change in any substantive way, it is promising to know that when biases are understood, they can be taken into account and not allowed to influence our decision-making to the same degree.