What is it like to be stupid?

Inspired by this thread- what sort of studies have been done on how stupid people perceive the world? What would the subjective experience of a Sarah Palin supporter be like?

I’m not a Palin supporter, but many people are who could think rings around you within their area of expertise. One of the key characteristics of less intelligent people is that they assume all sorts of things without substantiation .

Most people assume that they’re above average intelligence and that everyone else pretty much thinks the same way that they do. (Without noticing that those two ideas are in conflict.)

I’ve met far more people who are simply mind numbingly ignorant of the world around them than are outright stupid. But as astro says, it’s astonishing how many people live their entire lives based on nothing more than a mountain of unsubstantiated assumptions.


Let’s kick this into the Pit, where it belongs.



Ignoring the cheap political shot, here is some seminal research on the subject (PDF):

Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognising one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments

If you were stupid, you’d probably think of yourself as being among the smartest, hippest people on the planet.

From Dead Badger’s link, above:

"The skills that enable one to construct a grammatical sentence are the
same skills necessary to recognize a grammatical sentence, and
thus are the same skills necessary to determine if a grammatical
mistake has been made.

In short, the same knowledge that underlies the ability to produce
correct judgment is also the knowledge that underlies the ability to
recognize correct judgment. To lack the former is to be deficient in
the latter."

I’m not sure whether it’s really as simple as all that; examples of proper grammar are not in short supply - surely the individual described above should be able to see plenty of examples that show there is something markedly different about their writing compared to other people’s? I’m no electrician but if I saw two power outlets, one of which was partially melted, smoking, and had sparks shooting off it, I’m fairly sure I’d be able to tell which one wasn’t operating as intended.

It is an interesting thought, though. I don’t see it being a concept that works when applied to people who are completely abysmal at spelling and/or grammar, but I can see how it’d apply to people who were close to the mark but not quite meeting it.

(I bet there’s quite a few mistakes in this post. I really should know better than to put my 2c in on spelling- or grammar-related topics.)

In my experience, nobody thinks of himself as stupid. We all think we’re smart.

Well, the rumor is that it’s bliss, and my observations seem to support that. The most contented (appearing) people I know are rather unburdened by a thirst for knowledge. Of course, they’re also kind of boring, so I don’t hang with them that much. They may have lots of problems I just don’t know about.


No, as circumstances dictate, I am as stupid as I need to be.

I think you miss the point. The analogy is that the same set of skills governs an ability to construct a proper sentence and the ability to recognise a proper sentence. So people who can’t do the former can’t recognise that the sentences they construct are improper. So they don’t tend to realise they can’t do the former.

You say the individual described “should” be able to do certain things. Yes, they should: if they didn’t have the deficiency they are stated to have. Which they do. If they were the type of person that would pick up the differences between their sentences and examples of good sentences, they wouldn’t be the type of person who was unable to construct a proper sentence.

Well that’s the analogy, anyway.

Certainly, but the finding is that in spite of the evidence, they don’t see the problem. They don’t perceive the differences between their substandard writing and decent writing, precisely because of the attributes that mean their writing is bad in the first place. Indeed the authors identified this as a particular type of domain, in which even incompetent subjects have enough basic knowledge to consider themselves informed. Very few people would lay claim to being knowledgeable about dusty plasma formation in fusion reactors, for example, whereas everyone has sufficient contact with grammar to believe themselves articulate, even if they’re a complete literary donkey. As the authors say:

It’s notable from the results that in the two domains in which specialist knowledge was not a pre-requisite (humour and grammar), the dunces over-rated themselves quite severely (sometimes rating themselves higher than the top quartile). By contrast, the domain requiring a certain level of specific knowledge (logical reasoning), the effects of over-estimation were less marked.

It’s like living by the airport.

[constant noise of things going over your head]


Robert Heinlein once said that the problem with stupid people is they don’t really believe there’s such thing as being smart. They think that people just make it up to make them feel stupid.

He nailed that one, didn’t he?

I must have a hyper sensitive funny bone today, thats twice that I’ve cracked up while reading the boards.

I’m going to start wearing a BIB when I log on and definitely not drink anything while trawling through the threads,its too dangerous.

Probably about the same as the subjective experience of somebody dumb enough to assume that people of the opposite political orientation are stupid.

Thanks for that link. I had read that article once (or maybe it was a report on the article) but I didn’t have a copy of it. I’ve often run into examples of what they describe - people who are too stupid to realize they are stupid.

I’ve always had this nagging feeling that I’m probably stupid and everyone in my life is just humoring me to make me feel smart. Does that count?
If so, when you are stupid it feels tedious, boring and lonely. You feel as if there is so much to learn but so little time.

I remember an interview with Christina Applegate about how she played Kelly Bundy on Married…with Children. She said that in Kelly’s mind, she was brilliant and completely unaware of just how stupid she seemed.

I just thought that maybe that might be relevant.