Are You a Cognitive Miser?

By Sean Carroll | November 4, 2009 12:14 pm

Jack is looking at Anne, but Anne is looking at George. Jack is married, but George is not. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person?

A) Yes.

B) No.

C) Cannot be determined.

This is from this month’s Scientific American — article unfortunately costs money. It’s about “dysrationalia,” which is what happens when people with nominally high IQ’s end up thinking irrationally. A phenomenon I’m sure we’ve all encountered, especially in certain corners of the blogosphere.

And the answer is the first option. But over 80 percent of people choose the third option. Here’s the solution: the puzzle doesn’t say whether Anne is married or not, but she either is or she isn’t. If Anne is married, she’s looking at George, so the answer is “yes”; if she’s unmarried, Jack is looking at her, so the answer is still “yes.” The underlying reason why smart people get the wrong answer is (according to the article) that they simply don’t take the time to go carefully through all of the possibilities, instead taking the easiest inference. The patience required to go through all the possibilities doesn’t correlate very well with intelligence.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humanity
ADVERTISEMENT
NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+