Why Smart People Make Stupid Decisions - David C Figueroa's Blog
David C Figueroa's Blog

Why Smart People Make Stupid Decisions


Are you afflicted with dysrationalia?

To be successful in life, you must be able to think rationally. You have to use rational thought to make good decisions, to make good choices, to avoid stupid mistakes that could screw-up your life!

Have you ever found yourself making decisions that, in hindsight, seemed completely irrational and stupid?

Do you know very smart people who keep making stupid mistakes over and over again? Have you ever had one of those moments where you wonder how someone so incredibly smart can make such mind-boggling irrational decisions?  Have you ever said to yourself “WTF did I do that for!”

Why does this happen?

Sometimes our head screws with us and doesn’t let us process the facts because emotionally we don’t want to believe them.

That, my friend is what is called “dysrationalia.” Dysrationalia refers to the inability to think and behave rationally despite having adequate intelligence. In other words, why smart people make stupid mistakes, or decisions.

The term was coined by psychologist Keith Stanovich in 2009. According to his research, high intelligence does not guarantee rational thinking.

Rational thinking is defined as thinking that is consistent with known facts. Irrational thinking is thinking that is inconsistent with or unsupported by known facts.

Dysrationalia is prevalent across various domains of life from personal finance to politics and everyday choices. Furthermore, highly educated individuals can fall victim to dysrationalia just as easily as those with less formal education.

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Evidence of dysrationalia is present when:

  • the middle-aged, smart woman meets that handsome, wonderful man online, who says that she is the soul-mate he’s been searching for all his life. But first, she needs to send a couple thousand dollars so that he can get a flight to meet her in person. Really?
  • The Nobel Prize Winner denies climate change or the existence of HIV/AIDS
  • your smart uncle says the the Holocaust never happened
  • your aunt looks up her daily horoscope because she is an avid believer in astrology
  • the lawyer decides that a convicted felon is qualified to hold the highest political office
  • your very intelligent cousin is convinced by a guy named Bernie that he should invest his money with him so that he can double it in 3 months. Could it be a Ponzi scheme?

Research into dysrationalia suggests that it’s not just about intelligence; it’s about how we process information and whether we let our emotions run the show.


I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you a classic example of dysrationalia in the present political arena.

In the U.S., we are presently in an election year where we have to decide who to vote for for president of the United States. It’s been a difficult year because it seems that all rational thought has gone out the window. It’s a very emotionally charged atmosphere.

We have one candidate ‘B’, who is a life-long politician and servant of the people; a family man; a religious man. He is a man of high morals and values. He has a proven record of beneficial accomplishment.

The other candidate ‘T’ is a life-time business man who declared bankruptcy six times, has been convicted of business fraud several times, has been on recordings saying that he can grab women by the genitals, was convicted of rape, is an adulterer, cheats in golf, cheats his contractors, and just recently was convicted of 34 felonies. Many health professionals have assessed that he is a narcissist and pathological liar.

Yet, the race, according to data, is too close to call. How can that be? I suggest that it is due to dysrationalia.

My description of candidate ‘T’ is based on indisputable facts, yet there are many supposedly “smart” people in his camp including well-educated, intelligent professionals such as lawyers and politicians who think that he is the best candidate to run the most powerful country in the world!

Smart” people in his political faction also espouse wild theories that have no basis in reality. They are completely irrational!

Conspiracy Theories

For example:

  • They believe that ex. President Obama is still acting as president even though he has been out of office for 8 years.
  • They believe that John Kennedy junior is still alive and will jump back into politics, even though he died in a plane accident over 20 years ago.
  • They believe that the last election was stolen even though 60 courts, independent analyists, and his own Attorney General have concluded that there is no evidence to prove that it was stolen.
  • Pizzagate- A baseless conspiracy theory alleges that Hillary Clinton and other Democrats are involved in a child sex trafficking ring operating out of a Washington D.C. pizzeria
  • Q-Anon- A far-right conspiracy theory claims that a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles controls the world and that Candidate ‘T’ was fighting against them
  • Global warming was created by the Chinese in order to hurt U.S. Manufacturing
  • Claims that billionaire Bill Gates and Dr. Anthony Fauci profited from the COVID-19 vaccinations
  • The January 6th insurrection and riot at the capitol was a peaceful demonstration

You would think that after reading the above statements, most intelligent people would see them as far-fetched, crazy, stupid and illogical. But, you would be wrong!

Senior politicians, lawyers, and even wives of Supreme Court justices have perpetuated these outlandish theories. Furthermore, they continue to support the man who lit the fire of deceit and “alternative facts.”

Before we work on artificial intelligence, why don’t we do something about natural stupidity?”- Author unknown

How can this be? How can such smart people fall for this foolishness? Welcome to the fascinating world of dysrationalia, where our human capacity for rational thought occasionally takes a detour into unpredictable territory.

Smart people can get duped just as easily as less intelligent people.

It happens all the time. “Smart” people get scammed out of their hard-earned money by phone solicitors. Women fall in love online with con men who promise love only to get at their money. Men get suckered when some guy comes and offers them a “can’t lose” investment proposition.

Of course, we have all heard of the charismatic preacher or spiritual leader who convinces “smart” people to drink poison Koolaid, or to drink poison so that they can be taken to heaven by a starship. Really?


This flawed thinking can happen due to two factors:

Mindware Gap and Contaminated Mindware

Mindware Gap: Results from gaps in education and experience. Lack of knowledge in logic, probability theory, or scientific methods can hinder rational thinking.

Contaminated Mindware: When people hold onto flawed beliefs or faulty reasoning due to misinformation or cognitive biases.


In summary, dysrationalia reminds us that intelligence alone doesn’t guarantee rational behavior. Rational thinking must be consistent with known facts. But, beware! Don’t fall for the con man who makes statements that “sound” like facts, but in reality are idiotic falsehoods.

You must do your due diligence. Ask for proof of claims. Check on your sources to make sure they are reputable. Fact check from different sources (social media, books, magazines). Don’t let “confirmation bias” cloud your judgement. It’s like wearing glasses that only show you what you want to see. Don’t let your emotions derail your rationality.

Finally, by all means use your common sense! “If it sounds like it’s too good to be true”. . . or in some cases “If it sounds too crazy to be true,” you know what NOT to believe.

The Holocaust really did happen. Climate change is real. The January 6th insurrection was not a peaceful gathering of people who wanted to tour the capitol!

We must be careful not to believe things simply because we want them to be true. No one can fool you as easily as you can fool yourself.”- Richard Feyman

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To your success,

David C Figueroa- Success Coach

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About the Author David C Figueroa

David C Figueroa is a psychologist with over 35 years of experience teaching personal development. An awesome success coach, and internet marketer. Now retired, he has refocused his goals into helping ambitious men and women to create exceptional lives.

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