We’re all prone to epic blunders from time to time, and knowing why they tend to happen can help you avoid them in the future. A study published in the journal Intelligence breaks down what we consider or dumbest mistakes into three categories.
Photo by The Magic Tuba Pixie.
The researchers compiled a list of stories filled with stupid mistakes, then had people rate them based on the a number of factors, including who was responsible and how bad the consequences were. When the researchers analysed all the data, they found three main causes for our stupid mistakes:
- Inability to reconcile confidence and abilities: This problem’s best known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Essentially, it’s when unskilled individuals think they’re better at something than they really are. As you’d expect, this leads to all kinds of stupid mistakes. For example, perhaps you’ve always thought of yourself as a whiz at fixing computers. Yet, when you went in to fix your mum’s ailing HP laptop, you managed to wipe the entire hard drive because it turned out you were actually just good at Linux-based admin stuff and had no clue what to do with Windows XP.
- Failure of attention: Most of us suck at paying attention all the time and it turns out, that failure to pay attention often results in our stupidest mistakes. There’s no chance this one’s never happened to you. Perhaps you’ve zoned out at a traffic light and rear ended the person in front of you, or maybe you’ve been distracted by a cool bird and dropped your phone onto the pavement. When we don’t pay attention, we tend to do stupid stuff.
- Lack of control: We’ve all done stupid things on impulse and when our behaviour seems out of our control, a dumb mistake is sure to follow. On a public level, something like Weinergate is probably the best example of this, but even something as simple as losing your cool at the office when someone steals your last muesli bar falls under this category.
We will always continue to make mistakes and you’ll never live an error-free life, but the three above causes are a good starting point for identifying your own mistakes. If nothing else, they’re a nice reminder that all of us tend to overestimate our abilities, not pay attention and make silly, impulsive decisions.
What Is Stupid? People’s conception of unintelligent behaviour [Intelligence
The Psychology of the Breathtakingly Stupid Mistake [Scientific American]