I suffer from forgetfulness – medium to long term forgetfulness. I forget names. Names of people. Names of places. Names of movie stars. I forget things I have done. And I forget them as fast as after a month and beyond. So when early this year I came across the article titled “Being forgetful is actually a sign of high intelligence“, I felt very nice, and so did my friends who are equally forgetful. You see, psychologists had found a reason to massage the ego of the lazy us. And psychologists have done it again, and this time it has everything to do with typos.
According to the article I read at the beginning of the year, psychologists explained that ” if the brain forgets smaller details about a past event but can still remember the larger picture, this allows us to generalise previous experiences better, as opposed to remembering every intricate detail of the event”.
That is, a smart ass person is that person who is able to understand the concept, instead of forcefully trying to remember every detail. And I’m a concept person – I love reading to understand the overall concepts of anything – be they economic policies, new innovations, historical landscapes, philosophical arguments, whatever. Ask me the details associated with those concepts and I’ll be blank as a clean sheet of paper.
As it happens, it is not just forgetfulness that defines lazy asses. The most prominent demonstration that you are a lazy ass is the prevalence of typos in documents written by you, including a document such as this one.
Now let me be clear – there are typos that exist simply because someone is semi-illiterate, unfocused or outright stupid. Those are not the types of typos that the psychologists have analyzed. The typos the psychologists are talking about are occasional typos where someone may type here instead of hear – seat instead of sit – or similar sounding words. Most of the time however, and this happens to me a lot, is skipping typing a word. I normally find myself writing something like “Yes I be home by 9” instead of “Yes I will be home by 9”, especially through instant chat apps like WhatsApp.
Typing those is okay – happens to everyone. The challenge comes when you try to read through your writing so as to correct grammatically lose ends and to also identify those typos. Even when you have read and re-read your article like I did with this one, and convince yourself that it is perfect, when someone else reads through they are bound to find mistakes. Such mistakes and typos are what psychologists have studied and concluded to be yet another sign of intelligence.
“The reason typos get through isn’t because we’re stupid or careless, it’s because what we’re doing is actually very smart. When you’re writing, you’re trying to convey meaning. It’s a very high level task,” explained psychologist Tom Stafford, who studies typos of the University of Sheffield in the UK.
If you are keen you will notice the similarity between the forgetfulness that the psychologists talked about and the typos Tom Stafford is talking about. In both cases, the brain overlooks nitty gritty details to focus on overall picture.
When writing down information, what the brain of intelligent people tend to focus on is the the message that needs to be conveyed, and no matter hard it tries, it will always overlook a particular detail pertaining to the exact letters or words used to convey that message. Forgetfulness where the brain still remembers the overall idea of the past event but can’t recall detailed description of the same event can be said to play in the same league as the typos.
“Generalization is the hallmark of all higher-level brain functions. It’s similar to how our brains build maps of familiar places, compiling the sights, smells, and feel of a route. That mental map frees your brain up to think about other things. Sometimes this works against you, like when you accidentally drive to work on your way to a barbecue, because the route to your friend’s house includes a section of your daily commute. We can become blind to details because our brain is operating on instinct. By the time you proofread your own work, your brain already knows the destination”, explains Nick Stockton of Wired.