Could intelligence make you arrogant and miserable?

Does intelligence make people arrogant? Is having a high level of education a justification for looking down on the less cultured?

Unfortunately, in many situations in today’s society, the answers to those questions appear to be positive. But what does that say for us as human beings?

As Psychology Today notes, there are many individuals who can hack your mind into believing their argument is valid only by convincing you they are of high status. The truthfulness of what they are saying means nothing when they are higher on the social ladder. It is a form of persuasion that makes you believe anything as long as it comes from someone you look up to.

According to psychologist Leon Festinger, most people evaluate the “correctness” of their opinions by comparing them to the opinions of others. Simply put, when we see there are others with the same beliefs as ours, we tend to gain more confidence in their accuracy. Meanwhile, we avoid saying anything that would lower our own status, even if it’s true. In fact, we may prefer to claim something we know is false, if we believe it might impress others.

Do we value reputation more than we value the truth? 

In many situations, instead of considering what’s the right thing to do, we think about how our actions would affect the way others see us. As psychologist Rob Henderson remarks, we implicitly ask ourselves, “What are the social consequences?”

Additionally, when evaluating what to believe in, we take into consideration not only our own reputation, but the reputation of others as well. Ever since we are children, we tend to copy the behavior and the beliefs of those we admire.

However, we don’t do it to be like them. We do it because we tend to accept that they are more competent only because they are higher on the social ladder. In other words, we value appearance, personality, material possessions, and social status more than we value the truth.

Who is more likely to be manipulated through status – the more or the less educated?

Perhaps you think it would be someone with lower levels of intelligence. But it might be quite the opposite.

In a piece titled “The bias that divides us,” Keith Stanovich, a psychology professor, says:

“If you are a person of high intelligence… you will be even less likely than the average person to realize that you have derived your beliefs from the social groups you belong to and because they fit with your temperament and your innate psychological propensities.”

It turns out that for some people, the better educated they are, the more likely it is for them to analyze information in a biased way. According to the expert, they “evaluate evidence, generate evidence, and test hypotheses in a manner biased toward their own prior beliefs, opinions, and attitudes.”

Moreover, in line with a set of studies led by Cameron Anderson at UC Berkeley, individuals with higher levels of intelligence and more money are more likely to agree with statements like “I enjoy having influence over other people’s decision making” and “It would please me to have a position of prestige and social standing.”

Who feels most in danger of losing their reputation?

Knowing that the more educated people tend to put extra effort into preserving their reputation, it seems only natural that they are, in fact, the ones who fear losing it more than others. What’s more, they also practice self-censorship much more often.

According to a survey conducted by the CatoInstitute and YouGov, only 25% of those with a high school education or less are afraid of getting fired or hurting their employment prospects because of their political views. Meanwhile, amongst people with a postgraduate degree, the rate was nearly double – 44%.

It turns out that the more you know, the more you limit yourself from expressing your real views in order to keep your reputation from falling apart.

Another interesting finding is that intelligent people hold significantly low opinions of others. A team led by Richard Rau at the University of Münster found out that individuals with higher education have more negative perceptions of others even if they don’t know them personally.

So, it appears that many of the most educated people do look down on everyone else. What’s sad about this conclusion is that it seems that while believing status is what makes them valuable and worthy of admiration, they miss out on the freedom of being able to say what’s on their mind without caring about what would others say.

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