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- Studies debunk the common belief that cynics are more competent.
- Data from 200,000 individuals across 30 countries supports this conclusion.
- Cynicism is not an accurate measure of intelligence or competence.
Popular culture versus reality
Throughout history and popular culture, from ancient philosophers to modern TV characters, cynicism has often been painted as a sign of wit and intelligence. Yet, what does research say about this widely held belief?
Four studies show that many people associate cynicism with cognitive superiority. However, in contrast, subsequent research using data from approximately 200,000 participants across 30 nations found that this isn't the reality. In fact, individuals with cynical views often performed worse on cognitive ability and academic competency tasks.
The adaptive approach of competent individuals
The research also revealed that people with higher competence levels adapt their views based on their environment. They would lean towards cynicism only if their socio-cultural surroundings justified it. On the other hand, those less competent would adopt a cynical worldview more unconditionally.
While cynicism might seem like a mark of intelligence in stories and movies, the evidence suggests otherwise. Contrary to popular belief, holding cynical views isn't a hallmark of greater cognitive ability.
As put aptly by American comedian Stephen Colbert, “Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the furthest thing from it.”
Make sure you check out David Deutsch's Optimism, pessimism and cynicism.
News tips: Ethan Mollick