Planet Earth

Are You a Cognitive Miser?

Cosmic VarianceBy Sean CarrollNov 4, 2009 5:14 PM

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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.

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