March 2021 gwern.net newsletter

by gwern6th Apr 20212 comments

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Stavrova and Ehlebracht (2019) observed that individuals perceived that highly cynical people have greater cognitive ability despite finding a consistently negative relationship when directly measuring these characteristics.

―Quote from Can You Ever Be Too Smart for Your Own Good?, from the PSYCHOLOGY/BIOLOGY links.

The above quote could be interpreted one of two ways. It could mean people believe that cynical people (in general) have greater cognitive ability or it could mean that people, when they observe cynicism, treat it as a sign of greater cognitive ability. I looked up Stavrova and Ehlebracht's paper to find out which one it is.

Four studies showed that laypeople tend to believe in cynical individuals’ cognitive superiority. A further three studies based on the data of about 200,000 individuals from 30 countries debunked these lay beliefs as illusionary by revealing that cynical (vs. less cynical) individuals generally do worse on cognitive ability and academic competency tasks. Cross-cultural analyses showed that competent individuals held contingent attitudes and endorsed cynicism only if it was warranted in a given sociocultural environment. Less competent individuals embraced cynicism unconditionally, suggesting that—at low levels of competence—holding a cynical worldview might represent an adaptive default strategy to avoid the potential costs of falling prey to others’ cunning.

"'Nash equilibrium strategy' is not necessarily synonymous to 'optimal play'. A Nash equilibrium can define an optimum, but only as a defensive strategy against stiff competition. More specifically: Nash equilibria are hardly ever maximally exploitive. A Nash equilibrium strategy guards against any possible competition including the fiercest, and thereby tends to fail taking advantage of sub-optimum strategies followed by competitors. Achieving maximally exploitive play generally requires deviating from the Nash strategy, and allowing for defensive leaks in one's own strategy."