Are high-IQ individuals deficient in common sense? A critical examination of the 'clever sillies' hypothesis

Michael A. Woodley

Research output: Contribution to journalScientific reviewpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


A controversial hypothesis [Charlton (2009). Clever sillies: Why high-IQ people tend to be deficient in common sense. Medical Hypotheses, 73, 867-870] has recently been proposed to account for why individuals of high-IQ and high social status tend to hold counter-intuitive views on social phenomena. It is claimed that these 'clever sillies' use their high general intelligence and Openness to Experience to overanalyze social problems for which socially intelligent/common sense responses would seemingly be more appropriate. The first three sections of this review will consider i) the relationship between general and social intelligence; ii) the role of situational effects on the direction of the correlation between IQ and political attitudes; iii) the behavioral ecology of competitive altruism. While there is no hard evidence for Charlton's hypothesis, sophisticated although ultimately non-rational subjective analyses of social phenomena (i.e. ones that are disconfirmed by data, or reject empiricism) do seem to be favored by individuals in certain high-IQ knowledge work sectors. It is suggested that these function as costly signals of altruism, and that their popularity can best be understood in light of the theory that social attitudes are fundamentally influenced by perceptions of dominance and counter-dominance, with the latter playing an especially significant role in influencing the values systems of contemporary societies where the degree of conspicuous inequality is significantly evolutionarily novel.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)471-480
Number of pages10
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2010


  • 'Clever sillies'
  • Competitive altruism
  • Dominance/counter-dominance
  • General intelligence
  • Political attitudes
  • Social intelligence


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