Study Reveals Why We Do Stupid Things

Most people agree on what is stupid
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 3, 2015 1:19 PM CST
Study Reveals Why We Do Stupid Things
Overconfidence?   (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, Sean Cliver)

How’s this for a stupid study: Researchers at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary, set out to discover the criteria people use when determining that a particular behavior is, well, stupid, Live Science reports. It turns out it doesn't exactly take a rocket scientist: Judging whether something is stupid "comes instantaneously," researcher Aczél Balázs says. "If one person calls something stupid, there's a high likelihood others will do the same thing." In fact, the rate of agreement was 90%, the Huffington Post notes. Researchers found that behaviors deemed stupid stem from three primary conditions:

  • Overconfidence: You thought you could, but you couldn’t.
  • Lack of control: You knew you shouldn't, but you did.
  • Absent-mindedness: You weren't paying attention.

In the study, researchers gathered online anecdotes describing behaviors that had been called stupid. They asked 154 students to read them and determine if they were, indeed, stupid. Then, the students chose reasons why a behavior was stupid from a list. Some interesting takeaways:

  • People with high intelligence aren't necessarily immune to doing stupid things.
  • A determination of stupidity is based on the observer’s expectations for a person’s behavior; the person engaged in stupid behavior may have different expectations.
  • Understanding the causes of stupid behavior may help people warn others from engaging in it—rather than saying, "You’re being stupid," one can say "You’re being overconfident."
No matter what, Balázs tells Live Science, we not only recognize stupidity when we see it, we love to "watch other people doing something stupid as a source of amusement." (Stupidity may have thwarted a Nazi invasion of Britain. Can't get enough stupidity? Here.)

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