Dubai: Let’s tackle a thorny question right away: how is intelligence measured? Because if one has to theorise that intelligent people often make the most silly/thoughtless mistakes, and that perhaps being smart is a precursor to becoming overconfident, we need to get back to the basics, which in this case is to get the definition of intelligence right.

“This is a very difficult question to answer because I would need to know how you are measuring intelligence,” says Dr Saliha Afridi, Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director, Lighthouse Arabia, Dubai.

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Dr Saliha Afridi

“If it is using the standard IQ test, then I would say that test does not measure for many things like EQ (Emotional Quotient), critical thinking, creativity, distractibility, or self-awareness. So for the sake of [this particular topic], I will be using IQ as in intellectual quotient as measured by the Wechsler scales.”

The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) is an intelligence test that was first published in 1955 and designed to measure intelligence in adults and older adolescents. It was developed by David Wechsler, a Romanian psychologist. Wechsler defined intelligence as “ ... the global capacity of a person to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment.”)

The issue with mentally agile individuals, according to David Robson, the author of The Intelligence Trap (see main story), is that they often resort to Motivated Reasoning, which is essentially a self-administered immunity against criticism for faulty outcomes born of wrong assumptions. Is this true?

“Definitely. I have come across many intelligent people who do not know to think critically or how to question their thinking,” says Dr Afridi. “They are not aware of their own biases, thoughts and feelings, and so they do not know how those are influencing the way they process information or make decisions.”

Dr Afridi describes Motivated Reasoning as “when people process information or reason based on their own motivations, beliefs, and feelings.”

But she also emphasises that intelligence is not the same thing as self-awareness. “IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and EQ (Emotional Quotient) are very different. People can have high IQ and low EQ and they probably will not be very successful in their relationships or in leadership. People can have high EQ and average IQ and get very far in life,” she says.

“EQ incorporates self-awareness, other awareness, self-regulation and interpersonal skills. Self-awareness is a critical component of good decision making. If you are not aware of your own thoughts, feelings, biases, you will not know when you are being confronted or being held back by them,” she explains.

Ergo, a lower emotional intelligence may not help you see the flaws in your reasoning that are being powered by Motivated Reasoning. Collaterally, there’s also emotional reasoning, which is a common pastime for many people, high IQ or not.

Distorted thinking

“Emotional reasoning is when you reason based on your emotions — it can look like this: While having a conversation with my husband, ‘I feel hurt’. This means ‘He hurt me’ — emotional reasoning is a cognitive distortion — meaning it is a fault in our thinking pattern. This thinking pattern can literally distort reality and cause a lot of hurt for the person and his/her relationships,” says Dr Afridi.

“[Individuals resorting to emotional reasoning] do not look for any other reasons why they could be feeling hurt, or even question the fact that they are hurt — maybe it’s their ego that is hurt, maybe the husband has had a bad day or that they are feeling tired, hungry, lonely or needy? It could be many things that result in a person feeling hurt — but the emotional reasoning person will oversimplify and be quick to judge their internal and external reality.”

Both approaches, emotional reasoning and Motivated Reasoning “distort our reality”, says Dr Afridi. “We will not see the truth, or be able to relate to other people’s realities unless we are able to step outside of ourselves and see the world from another point of view. Your work, your relationships — including parenting — and your overall happiness will be negatively impacted if you are self-absorbed and unreasonable.”

Of course, not everyone falls prey to this habit. “Some people have the ability to regulate their emotions and remain as objective as possible. However, to remain ‘purely’ objective is a very difficult task and would require a very emotionally mature, and self-aware individual,” says Dr Afridi.

Moving to a better zone

So, you are in an distorted emotional space and viewing everything through an imprecise lens. How do you move over to the advantageous zone of Self-Distancing?

In Dr Afridi’s words, Self-Distancing is an approach that affords you a “‘balcony view’ on your thoughts. You are able to step outside of your thinking and think about your thinking, and to step outside of your feeling and be able to think about your feeling.”

It’s like holding your thoughts at arm’s length so you can see clearly.

“When you distance yourself from your self — you are not fused with your thinking, which makes it easier for you to change your thinking/feeling as well be influenced by others to change.”

For example, in a two-year-study of married couples at Northwestern University in Illinois, it was found that the Self Distancing technique reduced conflict and increased relationship satisfaction, since it helped couples to reason through their differences in a more even-handed way.

“This makes sense,” says Dr Afridi. “Because people who are into emotional reasoning or motivated reasoning can be so fused with their thoughts/feelings/biases that if you question anything, it is as if you are questioning their identity.

“They are overly identified with their thinking and feeling patterns. This makes them ‘unreasonable’ and being married to someone who is unreasonable obviously is going to result in lots of conflict and less satisfaction and vice-versa.”

How to move from Motivated Reasoning (Negative) to Self Distancing (Positive):

1) Start with getting out of your shoes and get into another person’s shoes. I tell my clients “What if you were a lawyer in the court of law, and had to defend this person’s point of view?”

People might not be able to ‘get on the balcony’ but they might have an easier time getting into someone’s shoes or be able to defend a point of view. The more they do this, the less fused they will be to their own reality.

2) Once you realise that there are multiple realities and multiple ‘truths’ and multiple perspectives, you might be able to develop some flexibility in your own thinking and not take everything to be Truth with a capital T.

3) Mindfulness meditation will also help you distance yourself from your thoughts and really experience how your thoughts create your reality.

4) IQ and EQ are very different. Up to 85% of life success is a result of high EQ and IQ has very little to do with overall life success.

5) Spend time understanding yourself, think about your thinking, be curious about your feelings, know your triggers, wonder about how you became the way you did, and familiarise yourself with your cognitive biases — and yes, we all have cognitive biases.

— Dr Saliha Afridi