Friday, February 03, 2012

Low IQ & Conservative Beliefs Linked to Prejudice

This from LiveScience:
A black businessman and a white businessman face off. There's no gentle way to put it: People who give in to racism and prejudice may simply be dumb, according to a new study that is bound to stir public controversy.

The research finds that children with low intelligence are more likely to hold prejudiced attitudes as adults. These findings point to a vicious cycle, according to lead researcher Gordon Hodson, a psychologist at Brock University in Ontario. Low-intelligence adults tend to gravitate toward socially conservative ideologies, the study found. Those ideologies, in turn, stress hierarchy and resistance to change, attitudes that can contribute to prejudice, Hodson wrote in an email to LiveScience.

"Prejudice is extremely complex and multifaceted, making it critical that any factors contributing to bias are uncovered and understood," he said.

Abstract: Despite their important implications for interpersonal behaviors and relations, cognitive abilities have been largely ignored as explanations of prejudice. We proposed and tested mediation models in which lower cognitive ability predicts greater prejudice, an effect mediated through the endorsement of right-wing ideologies (social conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism) and low levels of contact with out-groups. In an analysis of two large-scale, nationally representative United Kingdom data sets (N = 15,874), we found that lower general intelligence (g) in childhood predicts greater racism in adulthood, and this effect was largely mediated via conservative ideology. A secondary analysis of a U.S. data set confirmed a predictive effect of poor abstract-reasoning skills on antihomosexual prejudice, a relation partially mediated by both authoritarianism and low levels of intergroup contact. All analyses controlled for education and socioeconomic status. Our results suggest that cognitive abilities play a critical, albeit underappreciated, role in prejudice. Consequently, we recommend a heightened focus on cognitive ability in research on prejudice and a better integration of cognitive ability into prejudice models.

Controversy ahead

The findings combine three hot-button topics.

"They've pulled off the trifecta of controversial topics," said Brian Nosek, a social and cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia who was not involved in the study. "When one selects intelligence, political ideology and racism and looks at any of the relationships between those three variables, it's bound to upset somebody."

Polling data and social and political science research do show that prejudice is more common in those who hold right-wing ideals that those of other political persuasions, Nosek told LiveScience. [7 Thoughts That Are Bad For You]

"The unique contribution here is trying to make some progress on the most challenging aspect of this," Nosek said, referring to the new study. "It's not that a relationship like that exists, but why it exists."

Brains and bias

Earlier studies have found links between low levels of education and higher levels of prejudice, Hodson said, so studying intelligence seemed a logical next step.

The researchers turned to two studies of citizens in the United Kingdom, one that has followed babies since their births in March 1958, and another that did the same for babies born in April 1970. The children in the studies had their intelligence assessed at age 10 or 11; as adults ages 30 or 33, their levels of social conservatism and racism were measured. [Life's Extremes: Democrat vs. Republican] ...

Simple viewpoints

Hodson and Busseri's explanation of their findings is reasonable, Nosek said, but it is correlational. That means the researchers didn't conclusively prove that the low intelligence caused the later prejudice. To do that, you'd have to somehow randomly assign otherwise identical people to be smart or dumb, liberal or conservative. Those sorts of studies obviously aren't possible.

The researchers controlled for factors such as education and socioeconomic status, making their case stronger, Nosek said. But there are other possible explanations that fit the data. For example, Nosek said, a study of left-wing liberals with stereotypically naïve views like "every kid is a genius in his or her own way," might find that people who hold these attitudes are also less bright. In other words, it might not be a particular ideology that is linked to stupidity, but extremist views in general.

"My speculation is that it's not as simple as their model presents it," Nosek said. "I think that lower cognitive capacity can lead to multiple simple ways to represent the world, and one of those can be embodied in a right-wing ideology where 'People I don't know are threats' and 'The world is a dangerous place'. ... Another simple way would be to just assume everybody is wonderful."

Prejudice is of particular interest because understanding the roots of racism and bias could help eliminate them, Hodson said. For example, he said, many anti-prejudice programs encourage participants to see things from another group's point of view. That mental exercise may be too taxing for people of low IQ.

"There may be cognitive limits in the ability to take the perspective of others, particularly foreigners," Hodson said. "Much of the present research literature suggests that our prejudices are primarily emotional in origin rather than cognitive. These two pieces of information suggest that it might be particularly fruitful for researchers to consider strategies to change feelings toward outgroups," rather than thoughts.


Anonymous said...

So if we were all smart liberals, we would have no bigotry, economic inequality, crime, social disharmony or war? Dog gone we would probably agree on everything since apparently intelligent liberals are always correct about what is best since they are so emphathetic and intellectual capable.

Perhaps we should remove children from their closemined, backward thinking, dumb parents and just assign them to governmental education communes so we can make everyone better people. Can't figure out what we are going to do with those of average intellect and moderate/independent perspective.

Am I incorrect or do influences other than IQ and social/political perspectives make up how we view and interact in the world? Are there no smart bigots or simple minded folks who aren't racists? Heck most folks views on various political and religious topics are often contradictory form issue to issue and even change as our experiences and age mold us.

I hate the overly simplified one dimentional studies.

Anonymous said...

How silly this research is, Richard! You know, as well as I, that M. Carey Thomas, president of Bryn Mawr College, had an extremely high IQ, and she was both anti-Semitic and anti-Black.

Research like this is sensational --- the picture alone seems more likely to be found in People magazine than in an educational discussion forum such as this one.

Our observations alone prove the researchers wrong. Racism and prejudice cross all class lines and are tied to many factors. Even smart people fall prey to this scourge when society condones it. What's next: homophobia is tied to a low IQ? Don't think so. I would not have printed this article.

Anonymous said...

How disapponting that this discussion board moderator would not print a disclaimer!

Let me get this straight: If a student has a low IQ she or he is likely to embrace a conservative, possibly racist ideology?

Posting such pseudoscience as this is a subtle way to attack anyone who is not a Democrat, a liberal, or an active champion of affirmative action.

The posting of this article was undoubtedly designed to inflame. Mission accomplished.

Richard Day said...

Thanks for the comments folks.

As regular readers know (I hope) we reprint stories of interest to thinking people for their information, amusement, outrage or whatever reaction the reader finds appropriate (short of flaming).

But please understand that I feel no particular need to defend or disclaim the work of others. That's the authors' job.

When I choose to comment, I do so under my own name and say what I have to say. Otherwise, all comments on this blog belong to those who make them.

Having said that - when I saw this piece, my first reaction was similar to my reaction to
Charles Murray's work (The Bell Curve). Something like...OMG. I surely knew it would be controversial and chose to not shy away from that. I thought LiveScience did a fair job of reporting the existence of the study and then balancing it with Nosek's comments at the end.

For those who are interested, I suspect Nosek is on the right track - that racism is more closely related to emotion, specifically fear of the other, tribalism...something along those lines.

There are many stories I miss, but KSN&C readers should not expect me to hide controversial stories that I am aware of. I put it out there, not to inflame, but to inform.

February 4, 2012 10:33 AM: Nice. Thanks for the chuckle.

February 4, 2012 11:29 AM: I'm not up-to-speed on much of anything happening at Bryn Mawr...but agree with the inference that intelligence and ignorance can be nicely accommodated within a single person.

February 4, 2012 2:45 PM: I get your point, but seriously doubt I will begin disclaiming stories when I print them...for reasons stated above. Besides, you called it out for the pseudoscience it is.

Lets all repeat together - correlation is not causation.

Thanks again for the comments.

Anonymous said...

I think the message here is that we are expected to vote with the Democrats.

Richard Day said...

Yes. And it's research based. : )

Anonymous said...

You always leave me smiling, Richard And, yes, I am voting for OBAMA!