You may have thought that highly intelligent women want to avoid the competition of men of equal or greater intelligence, or being forced to compromise in their choice of spouse because intelligent men won’t want to compete with intelligent women.
However, given that the correlation between the intelligence of spouses is alway going to be less than perfect then it’s mathematically inevitable that highly intelligent women will be married to men who are on average less intelligent than they are (and vice versa).
So why do we try to think up reasons to explain cause and effect?
Well, our brains are strongly biased toward causal explanations when, in fact, what’s occurring when highly intelligent women marry men who aren’t as bright is what’s called regression to the mean. (Note: It’s taken as a given that the correlation between the intelligence scores of spouses is always going to be less than perfect, and research has shown that men and women do not differ in intelligence.)
We are emotional brains that think – we are not (what most of us like to think) rational brains that feel emotions. The fact is that the causal link you made explaining why intelligent women marry less intelligent men was affected by associative memories you have of gender, married couples and intellect.
Because regression to the mean does not come with a cause – it’s ‘boring’ rational statistics – we end up looking for one.
When sales targets go wrong
Ignoring regression to the mean can create all sorts of consequences in the workplace. For example, when I worked a Reed Elsevier along side sales teams, it was standard practice for the directors to impose a wholesale sales target percentage increase regardless of a team’s performance the previous year. The problem was that this penalised the best sales team(s) that were over performing and worked in favour of the worst team.
Speaking with the sales people they knew when they’d had an exceptionally good or bad year, and they often knew this was in part due to luck. But then the next year, when the things were back to normal, when there was regression to the mean and freak sales or bad luck were no longer affecting the figures, then the previous year’s outperformers were seen as disappointments for hitting average figures, and the previous year’s underperforming losers were now heroes for ‘getting it together’ and being average.
So, what are the lessons?
- Don’t confuse correlation with causation.
- Ask yourself if a freak year, or particular lucky incident, has swelled the performance away from the norm for the team or individual.
- Be aware that whenever we think we’re acting rationally, we’re probably not. And when we think we’re being rational while others are others are behaving irrationally, then this is often the time to step back, pause and reassess what assumptions and judgements we’re bought to the party. And these assumptions, judgements and unconscious biases are all topics that I talk about in my How to Deal with Difficult People and Conflict online video course. In this course, I explore the psychology of unconscious biases and provide you with key tips on how to develop a ‘clean’ mindset when preparing to deal with people you find difficult.
Source: Daniel Kahneman: Thinking, Fast and Slow
Blog written by Peter Willis, course tutor and co-founder, Unchainyourbrain.org