Psychologists reveal the 'three different types of stupidity'

A new study has found that there are three main categories of foolish behaviour – confident ignorance, lack of control and absentmindedness

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The Independent Online

Scientists claim to have revealed the three different types of stupidity in a new study.

Research carried out by experimental psychologist Balazs Aczel, of the Institute of Psychology at Eotvos University in Budapest, Hungary, and his colleagues, set out to discover the type of behaviour people considered to be stupid.

Published in this month’s edition of the journal Intelligence, the study found that there were three main categories of foolish behaviour – confident ignorance, lack of control and absentmindedness, reports the Research Digest news site.

The research team collected news stories, from publications such as the BBC and New York Times, that contained examples of ‘stupid’ behaviour, and asked 26 university students to keep a diary for five days recording any instances of people acting stupidly.

A small portion of all the stories were then deliberately manipulated to alter the consequences of the stupid incidents and the level of responsibility by the perpetrator, according to the news site.

The stories were shown to 154 undergraduates in Hungary who were asked to rate the intensity of the stupidity in the stories, and how much they believed 30 psychological factors, such as over-confidence, could be to blame.

The research showed that the students believed there were three main categories of stupid behaviour, with incidents rated more stupid where the consequences were more serious, and where the perpetrator was in a greater position of responsibility.

The first main category, confident ignorance, involved people who undertook risky acts for which they did not have the skills, such as burglars stealing GPS tracking devices thinking they were mobile phones. This category received the highest rating of stupidity from the undergraduates.

Lack of control results from obsessive behaviour, the study found, and was considered to be in the middle-range of stupidity.

While absentmindedness was found to be caused by a lack of practicality, with the undergraduates being most lenient to perpetrators in these situations.

A summary of the research stated: “Studying why and when people call certain actions stupid should be the interest of psychological investigations not just because it is a frequent everyday behaviour, but also because it is a robust behavioural reflection of the rationalistic expectations to which people adjust their own behaviour and expect others to.

“These results bring us closer to understanding people’s conception of unintelligent behaviour while emphasising the broader psychological perspectives of studying the attribute of stupid in everyday life.”