How to Be Intelligent AND Smart

by | Nov 12, 2009 11:53 AM ET

Just because someone has a sky-high IQ doesn't necessarily mean that person is “smart,” at least according to a recent article in the New Scientist. The article author (as distinguished from yours truly, so please direct your political commentary elsewhere) uses President George W. Bush as the example of someone who is, inarguably, an intelligent person, with a reported IQ above 120. But when it comes to smarts, as in analytical thinking, problem-solving and the like, many faulted Bush for falling short. Writing for Scientific American, Keith Stanovich a psychologist at the University of Toronto calls that disconnect between intelligence and smarts, “dysrationalia.”

Stanovich, along with some other cognitive psychologists and researchers, thinks  IQ testing is long overdue for a makeover  since it doesn't address types of critical thinking skills that make someone honest-to-goodness smart. The article points out that IQ tests, SATs, ACTs and other standardized exams do a fine job of assessing reasoning, memory and basic knowledge, but understanding how to properly apply those deliberative skills means the difference between someone who's intelligent and someone who can rationally navigate challenges to find a solution.

Consider, for instance, one of Stanovich's favorite cognitive word problems:

“Jack is looking at Anne, but Anne is looking at George. Jack is married, but George is not. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person?”

Given the choice between “yes,” “no” and “cannot be determined,” Stanovich says that 80 percent of respondents choose the latter, when, in fact after a little mental gymnastics, the correct answer is “yes.” Stanovich maintains that most people answer incorrectly because many intelligent folks are “cognitive misers” who don't think through things properly.

So basically, in order to qualify as intelligent and smart, a lot comes down to rational thinking – applying that intellect in the right way at the right time. That behavior hinges on a handful of common practices, including focusing on facts, avoiding emotion-driven responses and not springing for the obvious answer.

Consequently, Stanovich hopes to develop a rationality-quotient as a complement to IQ to round out how we measure smarts. And while this might sound like a useless exercise in taking so-called smarties down a notch, research has shown that rational thinking is something easily learned in as little as half an hour (and two easy installments of $19.95!).

Of course, this just scratches the surface of the different versions of intelligence, such as emotional intelligence, creative intelligence and bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. But it's interesting food for thought nonetheless.

More Brain Food on HowStuffWorks:

Does anger lead to better decision-making?

Can brain foods make you smarter?

Is swearing at work a good thing?

More To Explore