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Dysrationalia is defined as the inability to think and behave rationally despite adequate intelligence.[1] It is a concept in educational psychology and is not a clinical disorder such as a thought disorder. Dysrationalia can be a resource to help explain why smart people fall for Ponzi schemes and other fraudulent encounters.


The concept of dysrationalia was first proposed by psychologist Keith Stanovich in the early 1990s. Stanovich originally classified dysrationalia as a learning disability and characterized it as a difficulty in belief formation, in assessing belief consistency, or in the determination of action to achieve one's goals.[2] However, special education researcher Kenneth Kavale noted that dysrationalia may be more aptly categorized as a thinking disorder, rather than a learning disability, because it does not have a direct impact upon academic performance.[3]

Psychologist Robert Sternberg argued that the construct of dysrationalia needed to be better conceptualized since it lacked a theoretical framework (explaining why people are dysrational and how they become this way) and operationalization (how dysrationalia could be measured).[4] Sternberg also noted that the concept had the potential for misuse, as one may label another as dysrational simply because he or she does not agree with the other person's view. Stanovich then replied to both Kavale[5] and Sternberg.[6] Stanovich and his colleagues further developed the dysrationalia concept in later books.

In 2002 Sternberg edited a book, Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid, in which the dysrationalia concept was extensively discussed.[7] In his 2009 book What Intelligence Tests Miss, Stanovich provided the detailed conceptualization that Sternberg called for in his earlier critique.[8] In that book, Stanovich showed that variation in rational thinking skills is surprisingly independent of intelligence. One implication of this finding is that dysrationalia should not be rare.

Stanovitch proposed two concepts related to dysrationalia: mindware gap and contaminated mindware.[9]

  • A mindware gap results from gaps in education and experience. This idea focuses on the lack or limitations within a person's knowledge in logic, probability theory, or scientific method when it comes to belief orientation or decision-making. Due to these gaps, intelligent people can make seemingly irrational decisions.
  • Contaminated mindware, on the other hand, focuses on how intelligent people can "fall" for irrational ideologies, pseudosciences, and/or get-rich-quick schemes. A person can be led into such contaminated mindware through heuristic trust or fallacious reasoning.


One example that can be related to dysrationalia centers on two former Illinois schoolteachers who pulled their children from the local public school in the area because discussions of the Holocaust are a part of the history curriculum.[1] These parents, who are presumably competent due to their college education, believe that the Holocaust is a myth and should not be taught to their children. This is an example of a problem in belief formation regardless of intelligence.

A survey was given to Canadian Mensa club members on the topic of paranormal belief. Mensa members are provided membership strictly because of their high-IQ scores. The survey results show that 44% of the members believed in astrology, 51% believed in biorhythms, and 56% believed in the existence of extraterrestrial visitors. All these beliefs have no valid evidence.[1]

There are many examples of people who are famous because of their intelligence, but often display irrational behavior. Martin Heidegger, a renowned philosopher, was also a Nazi apologist and used the most fallacious arguments to justify his beliefs.[1] William Crookes, a famous scientist who discovered the element thallium and a Fellow of the Royal Society, was continually duped by spiritual mediums yet never gave up his spiritualist beliefs.[1] Kary Mullis, an American biochemist and 1993 Nobel Prize winner, is also an astrology supporter and a global warming and HIV/AIDS denier.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Stanovich, K.E. (1993). Dysrationalia: A new specific learning disability. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 26(8), 501–515.
  2. ^ Stanovich, K.E. (1994). An exchange: Reconceptualizing intelligence: Dysrationalia as an intuition pump. Educational Researcher, 23(4), 11–22.
  3. ^ Kavale, K.A. (1993). How many learning disabilities are there? A commentary on Stanovich's 'Dysrationalia: A new specific learning disability'. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 26(8), 520–523.
  4. ^ Sternberg, R.J. (1994). What if the construct of dysrationalia were an example of itself? Educational Researcher, 23(4), 22–23, 27.
  5. ^ Stanovich, K.E. (1993). It's practical to be rational. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 26, 524–532.
  6. ^ Stanovich, K.E. (1994). The evolving concept of rationality: A rejoinder to Sternberg. Educational Researcher, 23(7), p. 33.
  7. ^ Sternberg, R.J. (Ed.). (2002). Why smart people can be so stupid. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  8. ^ Stanovich, K.E. (2009). What intelligence tests miss: The psychology of rational thought. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  9. ^ Stanovich, K.E., Toplak, M.E., & West, R.F. (2008). The development of rational thought: A taxonomy of heuristics and biases. Advances in Child Development and Behavior, 36, 251–285.

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