The Price of Being “Smart”

Photo by Jdurham from

Photo by Jdurham from

According to Mensa International, two out of every one hundred people are considered geniuses. So out of every 100,000 people on earth 2,000 are extraordinary. Last week I discussed one of the most commonly cited arguments against human immortality. The concept that the earth has a limited carrying capacity and a human population with individuals who never died would spell disaster.

The counter argument? More people mean more geniuses would be born, to say nothing of geniuses already among us who would live forever. What’s more, you don’t have to be a genius to contribute good ideas, even world changing ones. If that’s the case, what are we doing to make the best of all the people on earth regardless of how long they live?

Are there smart people with good ideas who are never able to go to school because of poverty, race or gender?

Are there smart people with good ideas who don’t know the right people and their ideas will never be discovered?

Do the people who take intelligence tests and score high think they’ve got it made and stop working as hard as the average person?

Does telling people they are smart make them lazy or insecure?

One study took two groups of young people and asked individuals to solve difficult puzzles. In one group, those who were doing well were told, “You are so smart to have figured that out. ” In the other group, those who were acing the puzzles were told things like, “Good job, I can tell you are working hard.”

After the experiment was over, the subjects were asked if they wanted to do extra puzzles. Among those told they were smart, none chose the extra puzzles. The vast majority of the people praised for being hardworking, did the extra puzzles.

How odd. Did the individuals told they were smart avoid the new puzzles so they wouldn’t ruin their winning streaks? Studies on children praised for being smart have shown they are less likely to try new things. Instead, they focus on the things they already know they do well. In their minds, they are either smart or stupid, and failure while trying something new proves they are stupid. Children praised for hard work, tend to think failure is something that can be overcome with a different approach, a new skill, or more persistence.

With that said, are parents and teachers more prone praise kids for being smart? How many people, even people categorized as geniuses, have been ruined by being told they were smart?

One thing is clear, if we do rely on smart people to save the world, we’d better give all people the opportunity to apply themselves, genius or not.

Photo by Jdurham on

Photo by Jdurham on


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