Tag Archives: IQ

Overconfidence Explained

We seem close to a good account of overconfidence:

We study a large sample of 656 undergraduate students, tracking the evolution of their beliefs about their own relative performance on an IQ test as they receive noisy feedback. … Subjects (1) place approximately full weight on their priors, but (2) are asymmetric, over-weighting positive feedback relative to negative, and (3) conservative, updating too little in response to both positive and negative signals. These biases are substantially less pronounced in a placebo experiment where ego is not at stake. We also find that (4) a substantial portion of subjects are averse to receiving information about their ability, and that (5) less confident subjects are more likely to be averse. We unify these phenomena by showing that they all arise naturally in a simple model of optimally biased Bayesian information processing … [of] agents who derive utility directly from their beliefs (for example, ego or anticipatory utility). (more; HT Dan Houser)

They also have results on how overconfidence relates to IQ and gender:

We show that agents who are of high ability according to our IQ quiz, and hence arguably cognitively more able, are just as conservative and asymmetric as those who score in the bottom half of the IQ quiz. … In our data women differ significantly in their priors, are significantly more conservative updaters than men while not significantly more asymmetric, and significantly more likely to be averse to feedback. These gender differences are consistent with our theoretical framework if a larger proportion of women than men value belief utility.

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Mapping Academia

Even though individuals display strong correlations between their verbal/writing and quantitive GRE scores, Razib Khan observes that the average GRE scores by intended major show little correlation. Khan also notes:

Philosophers are the smartest humanists, physicists the smartest scientists, economists the smartest social scientists.

I wonder: why do these also happen to be three of my four favorite academic areas (the other being computer science)? Could some areas be better suited to high IQ folks?  If so, am I attracted to those because I think I’m smart? This conflicts with my impression that I like these subjects because they seem objectively more interesting, but that could just be my rationalization.

44 months ago I posted on an interesting “map of science,” and digging deeper today I find that in ’09 the folks who made that map merged twenty different maps of science/academia into this 2D consensus map:


It seems that academic fields naturally form something like a circle, with no fields being especially central. Especially interesting to me, the fields I prefer are all clustered together on one side; my history was to move from E to P to H to CS to an M-style SS.  These topic areas seem to roughly have higher GRE scores, to involve more general and abstract reasoning, and to discuss “far” things further in space, time, social distance, and hypothetically. Apparently academia is divided by near vs. far topics, with math and IQ more important for the far topics, even though math and other formal analysis invokes a near mental mode. The axis orthogonal to near vs far seems to be living vs. dead. Why does academia distribute itself as a circle in this two-dimensional space?

Added 9p: The MapOfScience website, where I got that ’07 graph I liked, now only offers this one:


If you don’t look carefully you won’t notice that the right and left sides actually connect.  Apparently the idea that social science is closely related computer science offends folks there, just as it seems to offend 3 of the 4 comments here so far. More hating on econ?

Many point out that this SS-CS connection seems one of the weakest links in the consensus ring, but that is in part due to the fact that the databases used to generate these maps usually only include data on “sciences”, from which the humanities and many social sciences are purposely excluded.  There has long been a campaign to marginalize these areas from the main body of academia.

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Doubting My Far Mind

A while back I was discussing long term future values, i.e., what we want our descendants to be or achieve, and I realized that pretty much any simple description of such values seems crazy. With a little effort it is easy to find counter-examples, or at least discomfort-examples, to most any description much beyond “I hope future folks get what they want.”

I’ve also noticed that among smart folks, the most successful keep their smarts on a short leash. They use their smarts to make the sale, win the case, pass the test, get published, etc., but they don’t use much smarts to consider whether they really want to make the sale, win the case, etc. Oh sure they might express some angst at a Saturday dinner, but come Monday they are back on the job.

In contrast, on average smart folks gain far less success when they seriously apply their smarts to big pictures, reconsidering what they want, what we really know, how the world is organized, what they can do to make the world a better place, and so on. They go off in a thousand directions, and while some might break new ground, on average such smart folk gain much less personal success, and may well do less to help the world.

I count myself in this smart sincere syndrome. I’m often distracted by what I see as important neglected topics, which offer fewer academic or other rewards. These topics have included future robot econ, foundations of quantum mechanics, prediction markets, and much more. Lately I find myself obsessed by a homo hypocritus account of human nature. I’m not at all clear on the best route to pursue this, but no route seems especially promising for success in ordinary terms, or to rely heavily on skills I’ve previously invested in developing.  Yet on I go.

Applying these observations to myself, I think I have to conclude that I just don’t know much about what I really want, or what I should do to get it, in general far terms, and can’t trust my far mind to tell me much.  Lacking a good basis for challenging ordinary concepts of success, I should accept them. If I’m feeling insecure, where success matters more, I should follow the example of smart successful folks in positions similar to me. You know, write academic papers or books, or do business consulting.

In contrast, if I’m feeling rich and comfortable, and so less in need of success, well then I should enjoy myself by doing whatever seems appealing at the time, as long as that doesn’t threaten my basic stable position in life. I’m capable of doing a lot more abstract thinking about what is good for me or the world, but at the moment I just don’t trust that thinking much.  What I most enjoy may well be to think on big far topics, but I shouldn’t presume I have a coherent integrated account showing their true global importance.

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