Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tell us what we don't know...

One abiding characteristic of the modern digital media is the way it seemingly encourages people to spend a lot of time and money on 'studies' that end up telling us stuff we basically already knew.

And so today news reaches us of the work of Professor Satoshi Kanazawa, Economics Management Professor at the London School of Economics, who has 'discovered' that liberals and atheists tend to be more intelligent.

Kanazawa argues that humans are designed by evolution to be conservative, caring mostly about their family and friends. Being liberal — caring about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers one may never meet or interact with — is, in contrast, evolutionarily novel and therefore more likely to be the position of clever offspring. Kanazawa doesn't exactly say why, but appears to assume that kids with smarts will reach out beyond innate behaviours and attitudes.

Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) nevertheless supports this hypothesis: Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as "very liberal" have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence, while those identifying themselves as "very conservative" have an average IQ of 95 during the spotty phase.

In case we didn't already know that members of the God Squad are constitutionally paranoid, Kanazawa spells it out for us: "Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in God because they are paranoid."

This served the species well enough when self-preservation and protection of the clan depended upon vigilance to the point of excess, but these days "more intelligent children are likely to...go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in God, and they become atheists."

Do these facts get right up your conservative nose? Well, there's a study for that too.

The Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School has published research which shows that people react in a closed-minded way to information that threatens their core values, and are much more likely to believe information delivered by a messenger who looks as if he might believe the same things as they do.

They conducted an experiment in which participants were asked to describe their cultural beliefs. Those claiming to embrace new technology, authority and free enterprise were labeled the 'individualistic' group. Those suspicious of authority or of commerce were referred to as 'communitarians.' When queried about nanotechnology, the groups began to polarise sharply around the potential benefits and harms. With the same information to hand, the individualists thought nanotechnology was exciting while the communitarians dismissed it as dangerous."It doesn't matter whether you show them negative or positive information, they reject the information that is contrary to what they would like to believe, and they glom onto the positive information," reports social scientist Don Braman of the CCP.


Lisa & Lisa said...

The difference between 106 and 95 is, technically speaking, not significant in terms of IQ. Both of these scores are in the average range, based on a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. A discrepancy of more than 15 points (more than one standard deviation between the scores) would be significant.

I personally don't think IQ correlates with political views. At either extreme (leftist <-> right wing) you have individuals whose inflexible views are defined in black/white, wrong/right terms. Those who are interested in viewing all sides of an issue before reflexively deciding their opinions are more likely to be moderate. They are information seekers, so they may be more likely to be highly educated. They are possibly more tolerant because they have a natural curiosity to learn from a variety of sources.

El Blogador said...

Of course one can still be liberal, clever and WRONG...but maybe we need another study to confirm this.

Many have also used the argument that the case of George W. Bush proves that high IQ does not necessarily map onto deep analytical ability.

Personally, I'm not sure that the argument that clever individuals are more likely to be those that step outside their biological heritage is one that these studies have fleshed out enough.