Blog Posts


The Science of Smart: Why You Sometimes Feel Smart And Sometimes Feel Dumb

I interview scientists for a living, but I’ll confess: Sometimes I still feel intimidated in the presence of these very accomplished, very knowledgeable people. (That’s why I like “The Secret Lives of Scientists” so much—it shows us that there are real people under those white lab coats.) Sometimes I’ll fumble with my pen and notepad, or get confused asking about material I know perfectly well. This article I wrote explains why all of us at times experience this “conditional stupidity.”

I have an op-ed in the “Sunday Review” section of the New York Times, about the social nature of intelligence:

“We’ve all been there: you feel especially smart and funny when talking to a particular person, only to feel hopelessly unintelligent and inarticulate in the presence of another.

You’re not imagining things. Experiments show that when people report feeling comfortable with a conversational partner, they are judged by those partners and by observers as actually being more witty.

It’s just one example of the powerful influence that social factors can have on intelligence. As parents, teachers and students settle into the school year, this work should prompt us to think about intelligence not as a ‘lump of something that’s in our heads,’ as the psychologist Joshua Aronson puts it, but as “a transaction among people.’”

Read more here, and tell me what you think!

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Annie Murphy Paul

    Annie Murphy Paul is a book author and magazine journalist who writes about how we learn and how we can do it better. A contributor to Time magazine, she writes a weekly column about learning for, and has written for The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, Slate, and O, The Oprah Magazine, among many other publications. She is the author of “The Cult of Personality,” a cultural history and scientific critique of personality tests, and of “Origins,” a book about the science of prenatal influences. She is now at work on “Brilliant: The New Science of Smart,” to be published by Crown in 2014. You can read more about the science of learning at her website,