This new article by psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa concludes that more intelligent people are more likely to be politically liberal [HT: Ronald Bailey]. It has gotten a great deal of media attention, for example from CNN and Time. In reality, the article doesn’t actually prove any such thing. It has several significant methodological flaws. via volokh.com
The origin of values and preferences is an unresolved theoretical question in behavioral and social sciences. The Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis, derived from the Savanna Principle and a theory of the evolution of general intelligence, suggests that more intelligent individuals may be more likely to acquire and espouse evolutionarily novel values and preferences (such as liberalism and atheism and, for men, sexual exclusivity) than less intelligent individuals, but that general intelligence may have no effect on the acquisition and espousal of evolutionarily familiar values (for children, marriage, family, and friends). The analyses of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Study 1) and the General Social Surveys (Study 2) show that adolescent and adult intelligence significantly increases adult liberalism, atheism, and men’s (but not women’s) value on sexual exclusivity.
What’s got people talking is the correlation between atheism and intelligence, although that isn’t what the paper is actually about. It’s already pretty well established that atheists tend, on average, to be more intelligent. This paper firms that finding up a bit more, but makes a bigger claim than that.
it isn’t intelligent to do a post on intelligence and tie it to an assumption of bias.
I would not of survived my life if I had not been a liberal. If anything the animalistic element that attempts to survive and does not articulate it’s goals or desires is likely to be liberal. Conservatism or self interest only comes out in educated forums that protect us from the pitch fork mob… that is unless you speak of other forums that merely focus on ritual and tradition which in essence runs contrary to self interest again.
Volkh Conspiracy answered the question “intelligently”
I suspect that much of the public interest in Kanazawa’s study is driven by a perception that political views endorsed by more intelligent people are more likely to be true. This, however, is a dubious inference. Even intelligent people have incentives to be rationally ignorant about politics and to do a poor job of evaluating the information they do know. I do think that, other things equal, a political view is more likely to be correct if it is more likely to be endorsed by people with greater knowledge of the issue (controlling for other factors that may affect their answers). While knowledge and intelligence are likely to be correlated, they are not the same thing. Ultimately, the fact that a political ideology is more likely to be endorsed by more intelligent people is only a weak indicator of its validity.
decades of research show that large percentages of the population have a poor understanding of political ideology and have a poor grasp of the meaning of terms like “liberal” and “conservative”
Kanazawa uses a highly idisoyncratic definition of liberalism: “genuine concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated others and the willingness to contribute larger proportions of private resources for the welfare of such others.” This definition doesn’t distinguish liberalism from conservatism or libertarianism. It distinguishes universalism from particularism. For example, a libertarian who believes that free market policies best promote the welfare of “genetically unrelated others” and contributes a great deal of his money to charities promoting libertarian causes counts as a liberal under this definition. The same goes for a Religious Right conservative who believes that everyone will be better off under socially conservative policies and contributes lots of money to church charities. In fact, recent research by Arthur Brooks shows that conservatives and other opponents of government redistribution give more, on average, to charity than other members of the population.
When Kanazawa actually correlates measures of intelligence with views of particular issues, he finds that, controlling for various other variables, more intelligent General Social Survey (GSS) respondents are less likely to support government-mandated efforts to ” reduce the differences in income between people with high incomes and those with low incomes.” This is hardly consistent with claims that the more intelligent are more politically liberal in the conventional sense of the term.
Yet another academic study finds correlation between IQ and political and religious beliefs. This one throws in sexual practice, too.
Political, religious and sexual behaviors may be reflections of intelligence, a new study finds.
Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa at the the London School of Economics and Political Science correlated data on these behaviors with IQ from a large national U.S. sample and found that, on average, people who identified as liberal and atheist had higher IQs. This applied also to sexual exclusivity in men, but not in women. The findings will be published in the March 2010 issue of Social Psychology Quarterly.
The IQ differences, while statistically significant, are not stunning — on the order of 6 to 11 points — and the data should not be used to stereotype or make assumptions about people, experts say. But they show how certain patterns of identifying with particular ideologies develop, and how some people’s behaviors come to be.
The reasoning is that sexual exclusivity in men, liberalism and atheism all go against what would be expected given humans’ evolutionary past. In other words, none of these traits would have benefited our early human ancestors, but higher intelligence may be associated with them. “The adoption of some evolutionarily novel ideas makes some sense in terms of moving the species forward,” said George Washington University leadership professor James Bailey, who was not involved in the study. “It also makes perfect sense that more intelligent people — people with, sort of, more intellectual firepower — are likely to be the ones to do that.” Bailey also said that these preferences may stem from a desire to show superiority or elitism, which also has to do with IQ. In fact, aligning oneself with “unconventional” philosophies such as liberalism or atheism may be “ways to communicate to everyone that you’re pretty smart,” he said.
The study looked at a large sample from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health [Add Health], which began with adolescents in grades 7-12 in the United States during the 1994-95 school year. The participants were interviewed as 18- to 28-year-olds from 2001 to 2002. The study also looked at the General Social Survey, another cross-national data collection source.
Participants who said they were atheists had an average IQ of 103 in adolescence, while adults who said they were religious averaged 97, the study found. Atheism “allows someone to move forward and speculate on life without any concern for the dogmatic structure of a religion,” Bailey said. “Historically, anything that’s new and different can be seen as a threat in terms of the religious beliefs; almost all religious systems are about permanence,” he noted.
The study takes the American view of liberal vs. conservative. It defines “liberal” in terms of concern for genetically nonrelated people and support for private resources that help those people. It does not look at other factors that play into American political beliefs, such as abortion, gun control and gay rights. “Liberals are more likely to be concerned about total strangers; conservatives are likely to be concerned with people they associate with,” he said.
Without access to the study itself, it’s difficult to know what to make of it. Most obviously, if it didn’t control for education, the findings are meaningless. For a variety of reasons, education leads people to be more scientifically oriented, materialistic, skeptical, and tolerant of differences. Further, success in the educational arena is an indicator of being able to conform to social expectations — showing up on time, not disrupting others, and so forth — so it’s not surprising that there would be an uptick in the ability to maintain a monogamous relationship. And, of course, religiosity and political conservatism tend to go hand-in-hand, further confusing the relationships.
[UPDATE: A commenter at Ron Chusid‘s discussion of the piece points to an online PDF of the study, titled “Why Liberals and Atheists are More Intelligent.” There is indeed a control for years of education. Parental education isn’t factored in, except to the extent it correlates with earnings. With all the controls factored in, the author finds “adolescent intelligence has a larger effect on adult political ideology than any other
variable in the model except for religion.”]
The causality issue aside, the correlation seems to remain. But let’s not get terribly excited about what all this means. The vast majority of Americans — including high IQ Americans and well educated Americans — are religious. For that matter, the vast majority of Americans — including those of below average intelligence — are in monogamous relationships or strive to be. We’re talking about small differences in aberrant behavior, not a chasm.
It’s also noteworthy that the correlation is between intelligence measured at adolescence and ideology, religiosity, and monogamy as young adults. It would be interesting to see if the correlation strengthens or fades with time. This particular cohort is being studied on through 2002; I don’t know if they’ll continue to be tracked.
- Tom Maguire makes the interesting point that the liberals who hated the very notion of IQ in the context of The Bell Curve some years back seem to love it when studies coming out showing that they’re smarter. But that’s not surprising.
- Don Sensing, who is both conservative and not only religious but a minister, notes that species don’t “move forward,” they merely adapt to changing conditions, and argues that Zanazawa’s definition of “liberal” — support for private charity to help others — is quite dubious.
- Ilya Somin argues that there are numerous methodological flaws in the study: conflating liberalism with universalism, relying on self-identification of ideology, and a seeming assumption that being endorsed by intelligent people makes an ideology “correct.” The second point is especially interesting: “For example, more African-Americans describe themselves as ‘conservative’ than ‘liberal,’ even though this description fits neither their issue positions nor their voting patterns. In recent decades, the term ‘liberal’ has acquired a negative connotation, so much so that many liberals have taken to calling themselves ‘progressives.’ This makes it likely that some liberal survey respondents won’t identify with the term, especially among the less-educated and less politically knowledgeable.”