Psychologists Develop a Formal Definition of Stupidity

(The Stupid t-shirt on sale at the NeatoShop)

What does it mean to be stupid? That's not a dumb question. In fact, it's important to know what, precisely, is stupidity. Psychologists Balazs Aczel and Bence Palfi of Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary and Zoltan Kekecs of Baylor University in Waco, Texas decided to find out.

They compiled a list of 180 stories of people acting stupidly, then asked 154 undergraduate students to read 15 of these stories. The participants then rated the stupidity of the actor in the story from 1 to 10 and explain why the action was stupid.

From the study results, the scholars formed a comprehensive definition of stupidity and published their findings in the journal Intelligence. Real Clear Science quotes their article:

The first situation in which people call an action stupid is when the actor takes high risks while lacking the necessary skills to perform the risky action. A typical story for this is when burglars wanted to steal cell phones, but instead stole GPS navigation devices. They didn't switch them off so the police were able to track them easily. We named this category ‘Confident ignorance’. The second cluster consisted cases of ‘Absentmindedness – Lack of practicality’... A typical story here is when someone inflates more air in the car tires than allowed. Here the person either forgot to pay attention to the action or he or she doesn't know something essential about tire inflation. The third category is ‘Lack of control’. Cases here are thought to be the result of obsessive, compulsive or addictive behavior. For example, one of the stories in this category described a person who canceled a meeting with a good friend to instead continue playing video games at home.

-via Jonah Goldberg

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