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Dysrationalia is defined as the inability to think and behave rationally despite adequate intelligence.[1] Dysrationalia can be a resource to 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 classifies dysrationalia as a learning disability and characterizes 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 notes 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] Further, psychologist Robert Sternberg argues that the construct of dysrationalia needs to be better conceptualized since it lacks a theoretical framework (explaining why people are dysrational and how they become this way) and operationalization (how dysrationalia could be measured).[4] Sternberg also notes that the concept has 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] He has elaborated on the dysrationalia concept in a later book.[7]

Sternberg has edited a book in which the dysrationalia concept is extensively discussed.[8] In a recent volume, Stanovich has provided the detailed conceptualization that Sternberg called for in his earlier critique.[9] In that book, Stanovich shows that variation in rational thinking skills is surprisingly independent of intelligence. One implication of this finding is that dysrationalia should not be rare.

Stanovitch also suggests two important concepts related to dysrationalia: mindware gap and contaminated mindware. A mindware gap results from gaps in education and experience. This idea focuses on the lack or limitations within 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, pseudo-sciences, and/or get-rich-quick schemas. This idea branches out from cognitively misusing one`s gut instincts. A person can be lead into such contaminated mindware and Dysrationalia through heuristic trust or fallacious reasoning. Dysrationalia can also occur within situational tests that measure a person’s level of rationality when paired with emotions and Intelligence Tests. One of the issues with IQ tests is that they measure intelligence and not rationality.

Examples of Dysrationalia[edit]

Like other learning disabilities, borderline cases of dysrationalia may be difficult to classify. One case 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. 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 obvious case of a problem in belief formation regardless of intelligence.[10]

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.[10]

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. 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.[10]


  1. ^ 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. ^ Stanovich, K.E. (2004). The Robot's Rebellion: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  8. ^ Sternberg, R.J. (Ed.). (2002). Why smart people can be so stupid. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  9. ^ Stanovich, K.E. (2009). What intelligence tests miss: The psychology of rational thought. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  10. ^ a b c Stanovich, K.E. (1993)

Further reading[edit]

  • Stanovich, Keith (2009). What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought. New Haven (CT): Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-12385-2. Lay summary (6 November 2013). 
  • Preiss, David D.; Sternberg, Robert J., eds. (2010). Innovations in Educational Psychology: Perspectives on Learning, Teaching, and Human Development. New York: Springer Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8261-2162-2. Lay summary (19 December 2010). 
  • Stanovich, Keith (2011). Rationality and the Reflective Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-534114-0. 

External links[edit]