When is being smart a disadvantage?


I recent posted how smarter people are more likely to “choke” under pressure.

Seems there may be other disadvantages to being “too” smart. People high in working memory may have a harder time “thinking outside the box”:

Via Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To:

People’s ability to think about information in new and unusual ways can actually be hampered when they wield too much brainpower. This seems to be even more true the more you know about a given subject. When people with lots of baseball knowledge, for example, are asked to come up with a word that forms a compound word with plate, broken and shot, they are pretty bad at this task.


When people highest in working-memory solve a problem like the string task, which requires thinking about the situation in an unusual way, they often struggle to find a quick and easy solution. Many adults never think of the screwdriver as a pendulum and even fewer think to stand on the table. High-powered folks often opt for the most difficult way to get through tasks and, even when they do come up with the correct answer in the end, they waste a lot of time and energy doing so.

To quote Nietzsche, “Many a man fails as an original thinker simply because his memory it too good.”

It may also hamper language acquisition:

Because children have lower working-memory capabilities than adults, this actually aids their acquisition of foreign tongues.

In fact, the secret to learning a language as well as a child may be concentrating less:

Adults are better at acquiring a new language— that is, adults look more like kids with underdeveloped prefrontal cortexes— when they are distracted and not concentrating too hard on what they are learning.

The same is true of skill work like golfing:

Highly practiced putts run better when you don’t try to control every aspect of performance. Limiting the working-memory and conscious control you have to devote to skill execution can increase your possibility of success. Having a golfer count backward by threes, for example, or even having a golfer sing a song to himself uses up working-memory that might otherwise fuel overthinking and a flubbed performance.

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