How Context Affects Intelligence

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Here’s an op-ed on how people think differently given different contexts; it ought to be required reading for high schoolers (and you too).

About scarcity in particular, the piece cites research done on Indian sugar farmers:

After they sell their harvest, they live in relative prosperity. During this season, the farmers do well on the I.Q. and other tests. But before the harvest, they live amid scarcity and have to think hard about a thousand daily decisions. During these seasons, these same farmers do much worse on the tests. They appear to have lower I.Q.’s. They have more trouble controlling their attention. They are more shortsighted. Scarcity creates its own psychology.

That people reason differently is no surprise. But that our situation affects how we reason and not only what we reason about is the shocker. We all seem to have a rational homunculus–a model of rational man–which we keep in a little cage, to be used for figuring out what other people will do if take some action or other.

For policy designers, the message is to take that homunculus, put it in a bag and throw it into the nearest river.

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