7 Factors That Make Us Stupid

I stumbled on an insightful definition of being stupid from Adam Robinson:

Stupidity is overlooking or dismissing [conspicuously] crucial information.

Robinson argues stupidity is not the opposite of intelligence. Instead, stupidity is impaired judgement due to one or more factors:

  1. Rushing or urgency
  2. Information overload
  3. Physical or emotional stress
  4. Intense focus on an outcome
  5. Being outside your normal environment
  6. Social or peer pressure
  7. Being in the presence of an authority

Individually, each of the factors can adversely impact our decision-making. Taken together, they dramatically increase the odds that otherwise intelligent people act stupidly.

By way of example, Robinson points to a 2016 Johns Hopkins study which reports that more than 250,000 people die every year in U.S. hospitals from medical errors. This makes medical errors the third-leading cause of death, after heart disease and cancer.

Why are there so many accidental deaths in hospitals?

Robinson explains that all seven factors are present in a hospital, especially in an emergency situation. Short timeframes, conflicting patient vitals, a high stress situation, and multiple experts. All of these contribute to a higher tendency to overlook crucial information.

This also explains distracted driving — talking or texting on the phone, eating or drinking, fiddling with the radio — anything that takes your attention away from safe driving. Each contributes to information overload which increases the odds of an accident when you have to deal with an unusual traffic situation. If you take your eyes off the road for only 5 seconds, that’s long enough to cover the length of an American football field while driving at 55 mph. Yes, distracted driving is stupid.

When you are faced with a critical decision, slow down and remove distractions. Avoid the 7 factors that impair your judgement. As the philosopher Forrest Gump said, “stupid is as stupid does.”

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