Certain actions may actually constitute "stupidity," finds a new study published in the journal Intelligence.

Researchers from Eotvos Lornand University in Hungary and Baylor University in Texas argue that studying why and when people find something stupid can offer psychological insight to everyday behavior, namely "why we call certain actions stupid irrespective of [a person's] cognitive abilities." First study author Dr. Balázs Aczél told Medical Daily in an email that he and his colleagues were initially surprised to find very few studies have been done on this subject matter before. "Given how frequently we find situations in everyday life in which we do, or would, call someone's action 'stupid,' one would think we should understand when and why people experience this feeling," he said.

So, researchers set out to analyze real-life examples of what people constitute as stupid. They collected online news stories reporting on stupid behavior, including stories from The New York Times, BBC, and TMZ. Each story was roughly boiled down to sentences-long descriptions of the reported event, a small number of which was "deliberately manipulated to alter the consequences of the stupid actions and the responsibility level of the perpetrator," BPS Research Digest cited. Researchers then showed the stories to Hungarian students in undergrad and asked them to rate "the intensity of the stupidity on display," as well as how many psychological factors might be considered to explain the behavior, such as overconfidence and fatigue.

The results revealed the three everyday behaviors students considered stupid were what researchers called confident ignorance, absentmindedness, and lack of control.

Confidence ignorance refers to those who take risks without having adequate skills and knowledge, whereas absentmindedness refers to those who fail practical tasks as a result of a distraction or, again, inadequate skills. The last behavior, a lack of control, was a result from obsessive or addictive behavior, such as someone who cancels on a friend because they can’t pull themselves away from something.

The level of stupidity was considered higher if the perpetrator had more responsibility and if the consequences of said action were more severe, researchers said. Aczél said, too, they found 90 percent of participants agreed on whether they would call an action stupid or not, which was unexpected.

"It shows that we use this label very similarly. Based on this, we would think that we must know what 'stupid' means," he said. "People often think that it is strongly linked to low IQ. Our findings show that people attribute stupid to three independent situations."

Overall the study's findings "bring us closer to understanding people’s conception of unintelligent behavior while emphasizing the broader psychological perspectives of studying the attribute of stupid in everyday life." In other words, an implicit theory of stupid action.

"Implicit theories have been postulated to be linked to various self-regulatory processes, including goal setting, social comparison, overcoming stereotype threat, selective information attention, and remedial action," according to a 2012 paper published in Psychological Bulletin.

Of course, more research needs to be done before this is achieved. BPS pointed out the present study relies solely on the judgments of Hungarian students and, as a result, can't yet be generalized. According to Aczél, next steps are already in motion.

"We would like to explore whether discovering incongruities in our environment has an adaptive function," he said. "Maybe if we observe stupid actions of others, then it may make us less likely to make mistakes ourselves. So, if we are right, then finding something stupid may make us upset, but also a bit smarter in our actions."

Source: Aczél B, Palfi B, Kekecs Z. What is stupid?: People's conception of unintelligent behavior. Intelligence. 2015.