Do Smart People Lack Common Sense?


Image courtesy of LinkedIn.

It’s said that super intelligent folks are not so street smart. Usually these book smart people turn out to be naive in the outside world. You usually see geniuses (stereotyped) as innocent species who always loses things or get lost or even clueless in dating and dealing with everyday problems. If a female, she’s usually a plain jane needing a lot of makeovers and dating coaches. In real life, some of them end up unemployed or underemployed and/or eternally single or divorced as if they never knew how to deal with life.

I do admit that sometimes I have no common sense. I could easily understand the Higgs boson (God particle responsible for the universe’s big bang) but it’ll take me some time before I get the easiest of sarcasm. It really took me more than a decade to figure out the most successful type of flirting/dating to get a long-term boyfriend (while my friends are either engaged, married or with children). Haha… But is it really true that smart people don’t have comon sense?

A researcher explains why geniuses lack common sense:

Dr Michael Woodley of Menie, from the Free University of Brussels, believes that individuals who can be classified as geniuses have brains that are wired differently and are programmed to be unable to deal with small details.[1]

“They’re incapable of managing normal day to day affairs,” says Dr Woodley. “History is littered with anecdotes of geniuses who fail at the most spectacularly mundane tasks. Einstein got lost on one of his sojourns in Princeton, New Jersey. He went into a shop and said, ‘Hi, I’m Einstein, can you take me home please?’ He couldn’t drive and the small things that most people take for granted were totally beyond his capabilities.”[1]

Hmm… that’s why it’s said that smart people often are unsuccessful, clumsy or just plain dork. Or do have fashion faux pas.

No. Not fair. Not all smarts are like that.

Dr Woodley believes geniuses are “literally not hardwired to be able to learn those kind of tasks. Every time they attempt to allocate the effort into dealing with the mundanities in life they’re constitutionally resisted; their brains are not capable of processing things at that low level.”[1]

Genius, Dr Woodley says, can be found in people with modestly high levels of psychoticism [often typified by interpersonal hostility] and very high intelligence, with IQs scores of more than 140 or 150. Furthermore they are, he says, often asexual as their brains use the space allocated to urges such as sexual desire for additional cognitive ability. “You have a trade off between what Freud would have referred to as libido and on the other hand pure abstraction: a Platonistic world of ideas,” he said.[1]

With this explanation, popular culture sees geniuses as undesirable because they lack libido. Not definitely true. While most people with modest to low intelligence tend to think only with their bodies (and genitals) people with higher IQs really first tend to think about complicated things (usually too intellectual subjects like water on planet Mars or obsessing with nanotechnology) before everday things (like talking about showbiz or sexual conquests). But that necessarily mean geniuses can’t have common sense or human touch.

Bruce Charlton, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Medical Hypotheses proposes that high IQ is not just a cognitive ability, but also a cognitive disposition.[2][3] He suggests that a tendency to rely on analytic ability to problem-solve everyday situations results in inappropriate behaviors and ideas.[2]

Furthermore, Charlton noted that people who have very good analytical skills unfortunately, that’s my hobby, analysis) and are very good in math or sciences, usually these analytical skills do not apply to simple social chit-chat.

Preferential use of abstract analysis is often useful when dealing with the many evolutionary novelties to be found in modernizing societies; but is not usually useful for dealing with social and psychological problems for which humans have evolved ‘domain-specific’ adaptive behaviours. And since evolved common sense usually produces the right answers in the social domain; this implies that, when it comes to solving social problems, the most intelligent people are more likely than those of average intelligence to have novel but silly ideas, and therefore to believe and behave maladaptively.[2]


Image courtesy of The thinking man has no common sense?

Too much use of analysis in everyday life makes the genius seems like she has no common sense. Why? Because most people don’t need to analyze old wives’ tales or flirting with a cute guy in the gym. However, the higher the IQ, the more tendency she uses her analytical skills and override simple thinking, which looks like the common sense disappeared but not really.

Another thing that makes smart people look like they have no common sense is that they are more prone to neophilia (love of novelty or new experiences) which means they are more likely to think outside the box which according to most folks is crazy (think of the fellas during the Age of Enlightenment who challenged Medieval period way of thinking). Charlton quoted that neophilia (or novelty-seeking) is a driving attribute of the personality trait of Openness; and a disposition common in adolescents and immature adults[2] which he calls “psychological neoteny.”

If you’re a person with this trait, you do really tend to think often of new innovations against the more tried and tested solutions which again stereotypes you as “lacking common sense.”

But even with too much analysis, people with higher IQs do feel human emotions and still crave bonding. Also, they tend to be more open to human rights like freedom of religion amd expression of sexual orientation (read: abolition of slavery, gay pride) which means though they seem awkward, do actually contribute more to society (though some of them negative, and other average intelligence people do contribute a lot also).

So, do smart people lack common sense?

Not all. A lot have common sense too.


One thought on “Do Smart People Lack Common Sense?

  1. My mother-in-law is very insightful and very clever with words, and she will argue about everything very gracefully…she appears to be intelligent, but she will also clip her fingernails in a restaurant at the table and think nothing wrong of it…


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