Monday, September 15, 2008

Raw intelligence is overrated

Awesome insights from Jonah Lehrer on the New York Times' "football for smarties" feature:
Peyton ManningThree and a half seconds: That’s approximately how long a quarterback has to decide where to throw the ball. How does he survey the options while a swarm of humongous, angry men seek to pancake him? It seems obvious: a quarterback needs to think, to look at each of his receivers and make a calculation. This is one reason N.F.L. teams put so much stock in the Wonderlic intelligence test, the theory being that quarterbacks who are better at algebra will make better decisions. Unfortunately, the theory is wrong. If quarterbacks were forced to contemplate their decisions, they’d get sacked every time, a classic case of paralysis-by-analysis. What recent brain research suggests is that quarterbacks rely on their unconscious; an experienced quarterback picks up defensive details he’s not even aware of. Although he doesn’t consciously perceive the blitzing linebacker, the quarterback’s unconscious monitors his movement. When the QB glances at his receivers, his brain converts these details into fast emotional signals, so that a receiver in tight coverage gets associated with fear, while an open man triggers a burst of positive feeling. It’s these inarticulate emotions, and not an elaborate set of calculations, that tell the best quarterbacks when to let the ball fly. In the pocket, it turns out, it pays not to think.
As with football, so with law. Don't think; blink.


Blogger Ani Onomous said...

1. This is only indirect evidence, via decision-making principles. There was a study a few years ago that found no significant relationship b/w Wonderlic scores and a quarterback's field performance or compensation; you will be happy to know that the best indicator was collegiate passing performance.

2. The corollary for your purposes is probably the irrelevance of LSAT scores, and consequently the law school at which one matriculates, for later performance (e.g., as a professor or lawyer).

3. All this said, I have a visceral reaction to the closing line "As with football, so with law. Don't think; blink." You might as well have said the same thing about analogies and sloganeering. Why should we think the 3 1/2 seconds is anything like the law, in which one normally does have a bit more time, and less need to rely on coordination and physical skills?

9/15/2008 11:36 AM  

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