Why Do Stupid People Think They’re Intelligent?

Why Do Stupid People Think They’re Intelligent?

Do you often find yourself getting into arguments
with people over stupid stuff, like why the Earth cannot possibly be flat or whether the
moon is genuinely made of cheese? And, in your own mind, you are almost 100%
certain that the Earth is oblately spherical and the moon is, unfortunately not made of
delicious melty cheddar but boring old rocks. Yet incredibly you end up losing these arguments
against utterly moronic people. You know that you should have won the argument
and you provided them with countless irrefutable evidence yet no matter what you say, you somehow
fail to change their mind, or remotely shake their ostentatious self-confidence in their
erroneous views. Why is it so difficult to argue with stupid
people? Why do they refuse to listen to empirical
evidence and instead favour the wisdom that the smelly old weird bloke told them at the
pub? And why do they often think themselves more
intelligent than their words and actions would lead you to believe? Let’s find out. Neuroscientists think there are very real
and fascinating reasons and explanations for this frustrating phenomenon but before we
talk about these, we must establish whether our suspicions are true, do stupid people
think they’re smarter than they are. Over the past twenty years, two social psychologists
have been attempting to answer this question, David Dunning and Justin Kruger. David Dunning was inspired to begin this research
after reading a feature in the 1996 World Almanac. About a Pittsburgh bank robber, McArthur Wheeler,
who held up a bank at gunpoint, in broad daylight, without a mask. But strangely his face was covered in lemon
juice. When the police arrested him later at his
home he said: “but I wore the juice”. He explained how, since lemon juice is sometimes
used as invisible ink he thought that by covering his face in lemon juice he would become invisible
to other people and the security cameras. He apparently took a picture of himself whilst
wearing the lemon juice before the robbery to confirm his theory and remarkably, albeit
according to Wheeler’s own account, his face was not visible in the photo – police
were never quite able to explain this. But then, this is a man who tried to make
himself invisible with lemon juice so I wouldn’t put too much thought into it. Inspired by this blatant idiocy Dunning teamed
up with Kruger and conducted a series of experiments in which they got participants to rate themselves
on their grammar, logical reasoning and sense of humour. They then compared the participant’s self-appraisals
with the results of a series of tests they asked them to complete. The studies all concluded that people consistently
rate themselves as being far more competent at everything than they actually are. Most people in the studies performed far worse
on the tests than they believed they had done. A poll in 1980 conducted by a Swedish Psychologist
illustrated this nicely when it showed that 93% of American drivers considered their driving
ability to be above average – just think about that for a second, the maths don’t quite
add up. The research shows that an overestimation
of our talents is something we, mostly, all do, albeit some of us significantly more so
than others and that the more inferior a person’s talents and/or intelligence the greater the
degree with which they overestimate these. One of the biggest factors driving this is
the brain’s natural egocentric bias. First identified by psychologists in 1979,
it turns out that the brain absolutely loves itself and does everything it can to make
itself look good. Repeated studies have demonstrated the egocentric
bias is present in all types and ages. For example, we tend to associate ourselves
closely with positive events, and we take credit for things that other people achieve,
such as “My team played well” whereas when our favourite sports team loses we try
to distance ourselves “They performed poorly”. Similarly, we have no problem when we are
overpaid for work but we think it’s unfair when others are. We think that anyone who drives faster than
us is a lunatic yet anyone who drives slower is an idiot. You get the idea, your brain thinks it is
the best thing since single-celled organisms. But how does this relate to winning arguments? Basically, the brain will do anything it needs
to in order to save face. Your brain must look good no matter what – even
if this involves ignoring facts, making up facts or browbeating your intellectually-superior
opponent into submission. Your brain isn’t being a dick for the sake
of it – evolutionarily the egocentric bias makes a lot of sense for self-preservation. The hunter that steals the prey from other
hunters is more likely to survive. Our egocentric bias is so strong that even
when we irrevocably lose an argument, we convince ourselves in our own minds that we somehow
won. As the legendary author Dale Carnegie of the
seminal “How to Win Friends And Influence People” wrote, “You can’t win an argument
– Nine times out of ten, an argument ends with each of the contestants more firmly convinced
than ever that he is absolutely right.” There is, however, another reason why learned
people often walk away from arguments with those who possess the intellectual aptitude
of a veritable sea sponge feeling wholly disappointed. There is a general fear amongst the human
race of intelligence, even amongst the intelligentsia themselves. This is a very real phenomenon that numerous
neuroscientists have observed – true, we admire those of heightened intelligence yet we simultaneously
fear them. In modern society, we have no need to fear
those of superior physical might over oneself, unless you just made a pass at their wife. But say you meet a huge burly bloke at a dinner
party with guns larger than your entire torso. Most of us could converse with him rather
happily, without feeling intimidated. Whereas if we meet a weedy professor of astrophysics
at a dinner party that knows general relativity better than you know where you left your car
keys, then suddenly, and for reasons which are unclear to yourself, you feel intimidated
by him. Perhaps you don’t, if so, congratulations,
you’re probably rather intelligent or a psychopath. The reason for this disparity is strangely
related to the egocentric brain. We know how the bodybuilder gained his mass,
by relentlessly pounding the gym and protein. We know that if we could be half as arsed
or inclined as he then we too could match his level of esteemed physical prowess. And most importantly, we can usually predict
his intentions and actions, we don’t need to be as strong as him to know what he might
do – if we piss him off, he hits us in the face. Yet the scientist, unless we are intellectually
superior than he, and even if we are – then we will be unable to predict what he might
say or do. He could say something that will reveal our
lack of intelligence and make us look stupid. Thus we fear him, to compound this fear, unlike
the bodybuilder most of us will feel that even if we read 100 books we could never reach
the scientist’s level of intelligence. And rather pessimistically, research supports
the idea that many people are most likely, unable to. As I have previously covered in another video
– we all have the ability to improve our crystalised intelligence, our bank of facts and knowledge,
but once we hit our mid-20s the brain becomes less plastic, it is not totally, but mostly
set in its ways. Like a car that has already been built, parts
can be swapped out and polished up but ultimately there’s a limit to what one can do with
its performance. And thus, after this age, we lose the ability
to improve our fluid intelligence – that is the ability to pick up new skills quickly,
think on the spot, outwit your opponents and problem solve. So if the scientist has, not only impressive
crystalised intelligence but also greater fluid intelligence than us, then we subconsciously
know that this is a state of mental acuity that we are most likely, unable to ever reach. Biologically we are hard-wired to be scared
of this prospect and we will feel a natural propensity to repel that which we cannot better. So you may defensively say something stupid
to the scientist, even jokingly, such as ‘oh, a scientist, you think you’re so clever,
don’t you?’ even if he gave us no obvious reason to feel so intimidated. This has a reciprocal effect – clever people
are generally well aware of others fear and distrust of their intelligence and so feel
less self-confident when in argument or debate with a peer, even if they know they could
easily win. Also, most people become intelligence because
they have a proclivity to question their surroundings and their self. Intelligent people are generally more aware
of the fact that they don’t know everything – especially in the scientific fields it is
normal and expected for one to criticise their own theories and for colleagues and peers
to cross-examine them. Thus smart people will always question whether
they are as intelligent as they think they are, whether they put their own point across
adequately, and if, perhaps their opponent does, in fact, have a point in their ardent
cheesy moon and flat Earth beliefs, as bonkers as they may sound. So they will come away from the debate with
their head swirling with questions and self-doubt. Conversely, stupid people are far less likely
to question things including themselves, they tend to be less introspective, that’s probably
why they are still so stupid. So they seem and are far more confident in
their moronic, unfounded theories. They don’t need to question them or see
how they stack up when confronted with empirical evidence because they have never done so before
and they possess not a shred of self-doubt anyway. To add to all this, as the Dunning-Kruger
effect proved, stupid people rarely think of themselves as stupid. They have absolutely no idea that they have
less intelligence than a Swiss cheese. As Dunning and Kruger’s research demonstrated,
there is a direct correlation between a lack of intelligence and one’s high confidence
in their intelligence and vice-versa. To put it simply, inept people think they
are proficient and proficient people think themselves less so. Keep in mind that the Dunning Kruger effect
is not an absolute but a general trend, not all stupid people overestimate their intelligence
and some intelligent people are very aware of how smart they are and will happily tell
anyone who will listen. I’ll leave you with a great quote by the
late great comedian George Carlin that anyone who has ever despaired with human stupidity
will sympathise with “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of
them are stupider than that.” I’ve recently launched my first book which
I’m crowdfunding ‘Stick a Flag in it: 1,000 years of bizarre history from Britain
and beyond’. The crowdfunding campaign has reached 100%
so it’s definitely going to be published, thanks to everyone who has pledged. But there are still stretch goals to reach. So if you want a first-edition signed copy
then head on over to Unbound, the link is in the description, watch the launch video
if you haven’t already and pledge today. Thank you.


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    Damalia Marsi

    Most five year olds know general relativity better than I know where my car keys are. I hate physicists because even when they dumb down what they are saying I"m still not smart enough to grasp it. I once told a physicist that they were too dumb to teach me physics because even with genius level intellect they couldn't grasp my level of stupidity.

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    Karl von Bahnhof

    I love this guy's channel, he really examines the Big questions, and the comment section, what should I say, funny, clever, normal… Could you make a video on deja vu? Greetings from a Czech;)

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    Michael Ortiz

    I came here for the comment section below to see how many people are saying others are stupid, how they are not stupid but smart (or making themeselves seem "smart") and for the mustache comments. 😉

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    Nelson Robert Willis

    This guy is saying a lot of things about physique which just aren't always true — unless I'm misunderstanding him. Of course plenty of people can be intimidated by people who are bigger, stronger, sexier, etc.

    Not every person who works out diligently at the gym will become a world-class athlete. In general, they will likely become stronger & fitter than if they were to be sedentary, but that doesn't mean that they will all achieve equally impressive results. Some people have genetic & hormonal advantages over others.

    It's the same with anything. Will diligent study of mathematics improve your math skills? Most probably it will. Will you become a world famous mathematician? Not as likely. Will practicing the piano several hours a day make you a better musician? Probably. Will you become just as good as Mozart? That's a long shot.

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    How do stupid people seem to always get to be in charge and how can we stop it? That's what I would love to know.

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    Fr33man Health

    Its not just idiots who do this but narcissistic people do this all the time. the difference is they know they are wrong but just want to be right to feel better than you.

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    The Obsesed Anime Freaks

    my driving ability is actually above average, i still will not claim i am the best driver on the road or that i'm all that safe when driving… i'm an impatient pile of shit that doesn't give a fuck about the speedlimits. however i do know when to slow down and when i can drive faster, something most american drivers don't know how to do. i also know how to drive my car near its limits without exceeding them and a few other tricks. most american drivers can't tell what their wheels are doing, they can't feel the road and gauge the conditions appropriately. that is why i know i'm better then average. i would say 70-80% margin maybe? i also know my weaknesses and am not arrogant about my talents.

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    Alex Lee

    Winning an argument by making your opponent give up in frustration is a form of intelligence I'd say. If you lack knowledge and have no solid evidence for your arguments, that's the only way you could "win". Pretty useful strategy for those who fear losing an argument more than death, regardless of their level of intelligence.

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    Stupid people consider argument a contest between you and themselves, not a double-pointed pair of tongs to pull truth out of the fire.

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    goawaken afriend

    do not call people or say they are less intelligent than you or another person. its not very nice to say this kind of thing. we are here sharing the same food that is grown on this same earth we share. we don't live all that long and so we should all just eat up our good food and satisfy our demanding gut and all be happy and healthy.

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    4:37 If you drive faster than me, you will get a speeding ticket if police happen to come about. If you drive slower, your speed is not optimal and your journey will take longer than necessary. So the argument is valid.

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    Gutnarm Matt

    dear mr. thoughty!
    sadly, i have to reply to your statement of the moon not being made of cheese. i saw that one moon mission launch on television(!), and they packed a pile of crackers designated for consumption once reaching earth's bovine lactate based satellite, and with acceptable success.
    yours truly,
    -a believer

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    I don't believe in this stupid vs intelligent crap. To call yourself intelligent is pretentious just as it is calling others 'stupid'. Yes intelligent people exist and so do the dumb, but it's not so black and white.

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    The Hurricane

    Ha! You don't need those two (dunning and kreuger) to tell you about stupid people (I heard a recent talk given by dunning and he didn't seem all that smart anyway)…..Carlin knew this decades ago!

    "Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that."

    "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups."

    "If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you're going to have selfish, ignorant leaders."

    "In America, anyone can become president. That’s the problem."

    "So maybe it’s not the politicians who suck; maybe it’s something else. Like the public. That would be a nice realistic campaign slogan for somebody: “The public sucks. Elect me.” Put the blame where it belongs: on the people. Because if everything is really the fault of politicians, where are all the bright, honest, intelligent Americans who are ready to step in and replace them? Where are these people hiding? The truth is, we don’t have people like that. Everyone’s at the mall, scratching his balls and buying sneakers with lights in them. And complaining about the politicians."
    People are fucking nuts. This country is full of nitwits and assholes. You ever notice that? Nitwits, assholes, fuckups, scumbags, jerkoffs, and dipshits. And they all vote. In fact, sometimes you get the impression that they’re the only ones who vote."

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    Aerox ⁣

    My problem is that people always seem to think that I'm smarter than I actually am, so they're constantly pushing all the hard problems on me to solve 🤦‍♂️ I don't understand shit about 80% of the things they ask me to do xD

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    Dante McDaniel

    The fact that you jumped to the conclusion of the guy being strong not having high mental ability solely because he is strong, you are an idiot

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    Lee Fall

    2:57 And that kids is why we are in the mess we are in. Because people who think they know what they are doing are running the country/world.

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    Brotato Chip

    "The 2 most important days of your life are the day you were born, and the day you find out why" – Mark Twain

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    No one will never going to down themselves, ever! It's just human nature to always believe in your own talent cause from your perspective you've worked so hard at it for so long that it must be the greatest period, unfortunately there's always competition in everything so it becomes clearer and clearer soon enough where you stand. The world is so competitive that someone will reply to this with an opinion even though I just admitted that this is how it works as if by saying this that they can improve on the theory/admission of my own hubris 🤣🤣

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    Cristaliana Ivor

    arguing with a stupid person is like playing chess with a pidgin: you can be as smart as you want, the pidgin will throw over all the figures, poop on the board and still prance like it won.

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    Pau Barrachina Ribes

    Im going to comment that before see the video so…

    The stupid pepole think who they are smart cause they are stupid and so they don't know how stupid they sound and the smart pepole eventually costume to thing that they are stupid cause they know who they are cause anyone will never be smart enough how to be considereted smart cause be smart is f"*&ing relative and usless if you think individualy in your own smartnes i think

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    Michael Groff

    What is with all the people posting quotes. Seems like a lot of people that want to act intelligent which according to this video means they are most likely stupid. However by saying that I sound like im acting intelligent and would also mean that I am most likely stupid. Unless one of the two is the exception of being stupid and knowing it or being smart and knowing it. Its an endless cycle which would also break part of this videos theory. Just to prove it more the longer this post goes of me trying to sound smart could also very well mean im stupid. But at the very same time it could also mean im smart and trying to show the contradiction that this theory brings.

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    Sepher Agon

    You can win against fools. Use wisdom not intelligence. You have to stray from what the debate is about and make it personal, make it about them and then belittle them, make them feel inferior, beat them down about all the faults with themselves and they'll feel so guilty that they'll just try to slink away invisibly.

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    Luke Cague

    Hmmm, I am not sure about the brain losing the ability to learn more things after your 20s. I learnt to fly a plane and now a commercial pilot, starting my training when I was 32.

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    My cousin try to convince me there’s no free will and we can’t choose anything. With his own evidence. Omg.

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    I have always had this nagging fear that i'm actually retarded, but my family all got together and decided never to tell me about it.

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    LaDonna Young

    Stupid people just know they know everything! Idiots are always incourageable. But smart, intelligent people know there is always more to take in, more to comprehend and analyze.

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    My how you have changed. The earth is flat in the second dimension, but in reality many people have a self elevated sense of self worth.

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    Angry oofling The first

    Mom: starts argument over st00pid thing
    Me: comes up with a valid argument
    Mom: “StOP ArGuIng”

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    Master A

    Honestly i dont consider myself a genius but not an idiot either. I think to myself as an average person who tries to work harder in order to be better. And this phylosophy helped me thru 4 years of Law at one of the best universities in my country. Tho i have average or above average results. Im proud that i reached this far when others failed and abandoned education. My memory is not so good but i keep searching for answers even if i cant remember them.

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    aerial eth

    if lied to enough, you will believe it.. that's what "empirical evidence" is.. a lie you believe.
    we will reward you for for believing our lies. now you are educated, aren't you smart?
    how well you speak the "queen's english", you are thus more intelligent than a soviet tank engineer.

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    Keo Jin

    I myself am proud to be an idiot. Never the less, I will strive to be better and learn something new. For those who think they are intellectually superior have already loss their argument.

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    Kepler Burger

    "The idiot will always win the argument, because they do not understand what the other person has said, but the more intelligent person will understand what the idiot says."
    -Me, 2019

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    Max Minutiae

    My wife’s uncle tried to convince me Jesus was white by telling me he was white in every pic he’s ever seen of him…

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    Stupidity is relative to the people accusing you of being stupid.

    You could be a very talented mechanic or programmer. But if somebody doesn't like what you say or think, "your stupid".

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    Joseph DESTAUBIN

    Not to be a compleat jerk, but is "erranus" even a word? I think the word you were looking for is errant. As in, regardless of your argument people tend to keep to their errant views.

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    Joseph DESTAUBIN

    Isn't losing an argument the only way you can learn in a conflict. I mean, if you've won an argument you've only reinforced what you already believed, you haven't learned anything. But if you lose an argument, you've gained understanding over an issue. There is no better position to be in than the losing position.

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    Dan Thepoetman


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    Jared Champagne

    Ive been saying this for YEARS now, although I know that I am far from being a very intelligent person, I think I’m around average. (Atleast I hope!) But Ive never been able to put a finger on it! Why cant you ever get through to a stupid person, they are just so thick headed and stuck in their ways and beliefs no matter HOW HARD you try! It’s one of the most annoying things I’ve ever experienced! At this point in my life I’ve just come to conclusion when I find myself in a debate with a stupid person, to just let them think they won and save my energy, because regardless of how much cold hard factual truth you throw at them, they will somehow walk away and think they won in their head. I’m getting worked up just thinking about it! Thick headed people dont have souls or the ability to think for themselves, they only listen to other fools and will never see reality for the way it really is!

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