Smart people can make dumb decisions, says Grawemeyer Award winner

Keith Stanovich, a professor of human development and applied psychology at the University of Toronto, won the prize for his 2009 book, What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought.

He was selected for the award from among 34 nominations worldwide.

Many people who score highly on tests such as the IQ and SAT still make poor life decisions, Stanovich’s research shows. Such tests are incomplete measures of good thinking because they fail to take into account the rational skills we use to exercise good judgment in our daily lives – skills such as planning, evaluating and weighing risks.

Our brains function in “low gear” most of the time – we are what psychologists call cognitive misers, he says. However, intelligence tests measure only how well our brains function in “high gear” and also miss how well we know when to switch from low to high gear, a critical trait in good decision-making.

“Stanovich makes a good case that current tests miss the mark in measuring the full range of our thinking and reasoning,” said Bill Bush, a UofL education professor who directs the award. “He also encourages us to rethink what intelligence means and come up with a better way to measure this important human trait.”

Stanovich’s work has potential for changing not only the way we view and assess intelligence but how we structure learning and teaching goals in schools, Bush said.

Five Grawemeyer Awards are presented annually for outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology, education and religion. Winners of the other 2010 Grawemeyer Awards also are being announced this week.

About Keith Stanovich

Keith Stanovich has been acknowledged by his peers as one of the most influential cognitive psychologists in the world.

A professor of human development and applied psychology at the University of Toronto, he has been ranked by the journal Development Review as one of the 50 most-cited researchers in his field and named by the journal Contemporary Educational Psychology as one of the 25 most productive educational psychologists.

He has written six books and more than 200 articles on the psychology of reading, reasoning and cognitive science, including one article that has been cited more than 1,000 times. His introductory textbook, “How to Think Straight About Psychology,” is used by more than 300 higher education institutions and is now in its ninth edition.

Stanovich was elected to the Reading Hall of Fame in 1995 as the youngest member of that honorary society. He is the only two-time winner of the Albert J. Harris Award from the International Reading Association for influential articles on reading.

He also has received awards from the National Reading Conference, American Educational Research Association and Society for the Scientific Study of Reading. In 2008, he received a distinguished researcher award from the American Educational Research Association’s section on special-education research.

He served on a committee organized by the National Research Council and National Academy of Sciences on how to prevent reading difficulties in young children and is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, American Psychological Society and International Academy for Research in Learning Disabilities. He is a charter member of the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading.

From 1986 to 2000, he was associate editor of Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, a leading human development journal.

He holds two degrees in psychology, a bachelor’s earned from Ohio State University in 1973 and a doctorate of philosophy earned from the University of Michigan in 1977.

Download a high-resolution photo of Keith Stanovich