Gene Expression

Why Liberals and Atheists Are More Intelligent:

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.

I don’t have access to the paper, but ScienceDaily reports the values. For the NLSY, which surveys teens:

Very liberal IQ = 106
Very conservative IQ = 95

Atheist IQ = 103
Very religious IQ = 97

I don’t know if I buy the evolutionary psychological explanation. OK, I don’t actually buy it. But I really need to start poking around the NLSY data set. The gap between very liberal and very conservative teens is rather large, ~2/3 of a standard deviation. But I don’t expect liberal readers of this weblog to take much joy in that, after all, many of them don’t think IQ is real. Here are the results, with counts, of the survey I took a few weeks ago in terms of attitudes toward IQ by ideology:

i-41b18b8f775135bbc4ccc694a75a89f7-Screenshot-1.png

As you can see, attitudes toward IQ track the Left-Right axis pretty well. I’ll present the data later, but those with a “Left” ideology among the readers are clearly more well educated than those with a “Right” ideology (much higher proportion with post-graduate educations), so I suspect that liberal readers of this weblog are more intelligent than conservative readers, but, they may not believe themselves to be more intelligent. Rather than innate dispositions driving their views, I assume they believe it is mostly indoctrination.

Note: These results aren’t totally surprising. You can find similar results by looking at other data sets, though the gap between extreme liberals & conservatives here is rather large.

Comments

  1. #1 Jeff
    February 25, 2010

    Is the studied controlled for issues like race?

  2. #2 razib
    February 25, 2010

    since i stated i didn’t have access to the paper, you’re guess is as good as mine.

  3. #3 Lotharloo
    February 25, 2010

    What is the consensus on IQ and its measurements? What is the error margin of these IQ measurements? What are the mechanisms that make a person liberal/conservative? There are just too many questions to ask.

  4. #4 razib
    February 25, 2010

    Lotharloo, you’re right. conservatives are smarter than liberals.

  5. #5 lol
    February 25, 2010

    yes, he controls for race, age, sex, education, income, etc. in his multiple regressions.

    these values are without controls:

    very conservative = 94.82
    conservative = 99.02
    middle of the road = 99.05
    liberal = 104.12
    very liberal = 106.42

  6. #6 bioIgnoramus
    February 25, 2010

    If the most salient consequence of belonging to the highest IQ race of all is that you are denied the pleasures of bacon, I can only conclude that God has a cruel sense of humour.

  7. #7 Zeno
    February 25, 2010

    My IQ is too high for me to take IQ too seriously.

  8. #8 Coriolis
    February 25, 2010

    I don’t think you can jump from the idea that liberals don’t believe that IQ measures intelligence to the notion that “they [liberals] may not believe themselves to be more intelligent”. I think most of us do believe that ;). Especially after the last 10 years or so…

  9. #9 miko
    February 25, 2010

    The EP argument is almost comical. If these results are real, I think the simplest explanation is that high IQ individuals are more likely to find themselves in environments where they are exposed to liberal views.

  10. #10 AG
    February 25, 2010

    High IQ types are likely conceal their true belief for political and social reasons. When the truth is socially damaging, they will cover it up. While low IQ types tend to speak their mind straight without considering consequence. Yes, you can say liberal or lefties are bunch of hypocrips. Caring for the poor and uderprivileged are the best politics, which make themself feel like Jesus. But in their mind, they all want to become rich and privileged while creating social agenda to suppress most likely competitors who resemble themself.

  11. #11 sg
    February 25, 2010

    Selection bias? More intelligent people are more likely to go to college and be indoctrinated. The more intelligent they are, the more likely they are to study at a more liberal institution. Just guessing. If the highest paying and most prestigious jobs went quite disproportionately to graduates of the universities with the most conservative faculties, etc., would that impact the ideas these people have? With the liberal bent of university faculties, is it a chicken vs. egg? If we assume intelligent folks are more likely to question, challenge ideas, would questions that assess such tendencies cause them to be classified as liberal. That alone could explain how a questionnaire would put virtually every skeptic into the liberal group.

  12. #12 Lynn
    February 25, 2010

    They’re using Add Health (at least that’s what they say), not the NLSY, though the NLSY I believe does have the IQ/IQ-type values.

  13. #13 John Emerson
    February 25, 2010

    Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative. — John Stuart Mill

    Conservativism appeals to the gut levels truths that people learn when they’re young. Liberalism (and leftism, and other forms of progressivism) challenge, adapt, change, and sometimes reject these principles. People who stck with what they learned when they were young will usually be conservative. (Even smart conservatives will argue from these gut principles, partly just because they’re rejecting particular modernist revisions, but also because they’re recruiting dumb people).

    Certain kinds of conservatives are presumably in the liberal range, because they’re also progressives or modernizers. These would be freemarketers (Austrian and Chicago schools), libertarian conservatives, and neocons.

    Neocons are an especially interesting case because many of them are very smart people who have decided to be demagogues.

  14. #14 Don
    February 25, 2010

    Razib: Count me as one “very liberal” who finds the evidence that IQ is real to be convincing. And, I have found your discussions of what “real” means to be some of the most interesting around. My liberal inclinations are that the GxE factor in the very liberal v. very conservative must be huge. My sibs and I might be a pretty different if my mother and father didn’t, each Sunday while driving home from church service, deconstruct the sermon and what we kids had been required to memorize in Sunday school. They felt attendance was a duty to their children, we did not pray, and my father constantly fulminated about the pastor’s politics (too liberal!). While they called themselves conservatives and loved Ronald Reagan their contribution to the family GxE was not that what I would suspect is received by those that fall into the “very conservative” bin.

  15. #15 Joshua Zelinsky
    February 25, 2010

    The given data about attitude towards IQ seems not so helpful: One can for example think that IQ has a rough correlation with intelligence but not see it as a “intelligence” by itself. That data also shows an extremely high percentage of libertarians seeing IQ as intelligence. I’m not sure what to make of that.

    Regarding the claim about intelligence and novelty, I’m not convinced that “liberalism” represents ideas which are more likely to be novel. While that is true for some political issues, it certainly isn’t universal. It may be that intelligent people are more likely to pick up viewpoints that are seen by them as novel whereas less intelligent people are more likely to reject views that they perceive as novel. But that doesn’t seem to be the sort of claim being made here.

    The ScienceDaily article also notes a prior study by the same authors showing that intelligent people are more likely to be nocturnal. They apparently attributed it to the same result. This seems to raise a massive correlation v. causation issue even larger than that in the primary study being discussed. Moreover, the mechanism is simply implausible: The vast majority of humans aren’t even thinking about how evolutionarily recent artificial lighting is, and we’ve now had artificial light for thousands of years. While that isn’t a very long time, it still makes the claimed cause for the correlationt to be much less plausible. I can easily present many other plausible hypotheses. There’s a temptation to track down that study to see how much they actually investigated other possible explanations, but I’m not optimistic.

  16. #16 M-K
    February 25, 2010

    As if 106 were a high IQ!

  17. #17 Chris
    February 25, 2010

    It would have been useful to break the political leanings down further into, say, socially liberal/conservative or economically liberal/conservative. More than a few on the religious right are, in fact, only conservative when it comes to social issues. ie: Huckabee is socially conservative and economically liberal. It would be interesting to see what the statistics are for nonreligious/atheist conservatives (which tends to be rare).

  18. #18 Charles Iliya Krempeaux
    February 25, 2010

    @Chris said…
    It would have been useful to break the political leanings down further into, say, socially liberal/conservative or economically liberal/conservative.

    Socially liberal and economically conservative would (basically) be libertarian, would it not?!

  19. #19 Chris
    February 25, 2010

    That of course depends on your definitions. Would a person who sees a need for some government regulation, but still in favor of keeping markets as liberal as possible, qualify as libertarian (if so, where do you draw the line)? That’s my problem with most of these surveys: poorly defined categories. As it is, most people don’t actually have a political ideology, just ad hoc policy preferences.

  20. #20 Charles Iliya Krempeaux
    February 25, 2010

    @Chris said,
    That of course depends on your definitions. Would a person who sees a need for some government regulation, but still in favor of keeping markets as liberal as possible, qualify as libertarian (if so, where do you draw the line)?

    There are small government types (as you described) that do self-identify as “libertarian”. (They are sometimes called “freedom as a means” libertarians. As opposed to “freedom as an ends” libertarians.) But like you said, it does depend on how you define “libertarian”.

    Some libertarians would say small government types aren’t libertarians at all, but (perhaps) classical liberals or minarchists.

    I’ve heard some libertarians argue that small government types that (self-identify as “libertarian”) have inconsistencies and contradictions in their believes; and if they (thought about it and) resolved those inconsistencies and contradictions, they’d be anti-government too.

  21. #21 miko
    February 25, 2010

    “Yes, you can say liberal or lefties are bunch of hypocrips.”

    Yes, you can say it all right. Were you part of this study?

    I think John Stuart Mill gets at part of it. There are principled and intellectually reasons to be liberal or conservative, but I think–prehaps particularly in the context of the U.S.–there is a large, stupid minority that identifies with particular aspects of conservatism. The Left’s morons (homeopaths, anti-vaccine, new age) maybe just aren’t as numerous.

  22. #22 Isabel
    February 25, 2010

    Razib,

    I read the article and it is worthless EP bs. I usually enjoy your blog but this is crap and I am surprised you would even blog about it without reading the paper.

  23. #23 razib
    February 25, 2010

    isabel, was only interested in the mean values of the various classes. the evo-psych model isn’t too interesting to me.

  24. #24 ziel
    February 25, 2010

    Being a liberal requires a degree of mental gymnastics that is clearly beyond the ken of your average dullard. For example, to be a liberal in America in 2010 requires you to believe that:

    - Completely revamping our current health insurance system so that no one will go without coverage will leave us all healthier and cost us only a little more money that the wealthy could pay for
    - The absolute lifeblood of our modern Western civilization (fossil fuels) creates a byproduct that will in 75 years time cause much of the world some serious problems so that we must act now to dramatically reduce our use of fossil fuels
    - If we spend enormous sums of money on education, particularly for those who perform the poorest, this ‘investment’ will pay for itself down the road by the increased productivity this education will bring
    - The unfettered immigration of millions of people from Third World countries will revitalize America and make it a better place
    - A deep economic slump caused by massive private-sector debt burdens can be relieved by the creation of massive new public-sector debts.

    Now these are very contentious issues right now and I admittedly phrased them a bit snarkily, but seriously to take the liberal side on these requires a certain level of vision that is not particularly common. I’d imagine that those in the lower intelligence cohorts who agree with these propositions must be desperate for change or absolute anarchists as the obvious impact of all these is rather negative in the near term.

  25. #25 MP
    February 25, 2010

    “but seriously to take the liberal side on these requires a certain level of vision that is not particularly common”

    Well, it does seem that someone with greater capacity for analysing abstract concepts will be open to ideas that make sense on paper, but defy basic common sense.

    Also, people are very status conscious. And in academic institutions and educated circles liberal ideas are generally the most acceptable. The most obvious example being on race issues. John Derbyshire points this out and cites a passage from Bonfire of the Vanities:

    The English nurse passes some mildly anti-black remarks: “The colored don’t know how good they’ve got it in this country …” etc. I will let Tom Wolfe tell the rest.

    “Kramer and his wife looked at each other. He could tell she was thinking the same thing he was.

    Thank God in heaven! What a relief! They could let their breaths out now. Miss Efficiency was a bigot. These days the thing about bigotry was, it was undignified. It was a sign of Low Rent origins, of inferior social status, of poor taste. So they were the superiors of their English baby nurse, after all. What a f*cking relief.”

    http://www.johnderbyshire.com/Opinions/USPolitics/raceandconservatism.html

  26. #26 Mario Grillo
    February 25, 2010

    “Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative. — John Stuart Mill

    Conservativism appeals to the gut levels truths that people learn when they’re young. Liberalism (and leftism, and other forms of progressivism) challenge, adapt, change, and sometimes reject these principles. People who stck with what they learned when they were young will usually be conservative. (Even smart conservatives will argue from these gut principles, partly just because they’re rejecting particular modernist revisions, but also because they’re recruiting dumb people)”

    Though they call it common sense(a position that I think should never be completely abandoned).
    Also,don’t forget about ones treatment as a young child and upbringing(morality factor,how we treat others ).

  27. #27 josh
    February 25, 2010

    Smart conservatives are sociopaths, the rest are suckers. Apparently this averages out to a 95 IQ.

  28. #28 razib
    February 25, 2010

    a few points

    1) unlike many weblogs, this weblog has relatively diverse ideological profile. just so you know.

    2) because this thread was meant to be somewhat political, i’ll publish comments a bit nastier than i’d usually let through. seems the nature of the game.

    3) at some point i’ll close this thread if it’s not entertaining, and i think people are wasting too much of their time without learning anything new.

    4) fwiw, i consider myself conservative. a moderate and squishy sort, perhaps even salamesque, though without the passion or genuine in terest in politics. also, from digging through the data it seems likely that all things controlled it may be that self-identified liberals are somewhat smarter than self-identified conservatives, though depending on how you categorize and slice the data it isn’t always a slam dunk.

  29. #29 Clark
    February 25, 2010

    Seems to me this is straightforward. Religion is the status quo (even in Europe). The less intelligent tend to be less questioning and less able to process questions so tend to remain in the status quo. There will be some of the intelligent who do question either to remain religious or non-atheist. But given the very nature of the number of choices open to the non-religious versus the status quo we ought expect this to lead to more in the non-religious category.

    I don’t see anything too terribly surprising about all this. Rather it’s just a statistical effect of the increasing number of choices with regards to the religious question. (I think this the case in Europe too where choices like variants of Marxism as a religious alternative were available much earlier and now there are various pseudo-scient and non-traditional religious views available as well – many caught under the non-religious label)

  30. #30 Clark
    February 25, 2010

    To add, I suspect that at least in the United States that small c conservatives (i.e. opposed to rapid change from the status quo) tend to be more disproportionately associated with the idealogical conservative movement and religion than they are the idealogical liberal/progressive movement. (Although I’m convinced many people remain liberal due to a kind of status quo conservativism and of course the conservative movement, especially under Reagan, was home to all sorts of new ideas opposed by those in favor of the status quo)

  31. #31 Tyler DiPietro
    February 25, 2010

    Liberals could also be better educated because they innately possess a greater aptitude for test taking…

  32. #32 Jamie
    February 26, 2010

    Re: #24, Ziel, since you own up to your snarkiness, I won’t snark back. I’ll just point out that I am a liberal and I don’t believe any of what you list as essential liberal beliefs.

  33. #33 Meng Bomin
    February 26, 2010

    Your fellow ScienceBlogs blogger, PZ Myers underscores your point about liberal reactions to this study.

  34. #34 Miguel Madeira
    February 26, 2010

    9 – “If these results are real, I think the simplest explanation is that high IQ individuals are more likely to find themselves in environments where they are exposed to liberal views.”

    11 – “Selection bias? More intelligent people are more likely to go to college and be indoctrinated. The more intelligent they are, the more likely they are to study at a more liberal institution.”

    These explanations don’t explain anything – basically, you are saying “some intelligente people tend to be «liberal» because they associate with other intelligent people who tend to be «liberal»”, but the orignal connection between «liberalism» and intelligence remains unexplained.

  35. #35 Miguel Madeira
    February 26, 2010

    Btw, my theory about IQ (politically, I am far-left, somewhere between anarcho-syndicalism and council communism):

    I suspect that IQ, perhaps more than a measure of intelligence (“being good at solving intelectual questions”), is also a measure of “intellectualism” (“having fun in solving intelectual questions”), a hypothessis that does not appear in the razib’s survey

  36. #36 miko
    February 26, 2010

    @razib… “1) unlike many weblogs, this weblog has relatively diverse ideological profile. just so you know.”

    Just want to point out that this is why I like GNXP… it is the exception that proves the rule that the internet is an echo chamber.

  37. #37 Miguel Madeira
    February 27, 2010

    Another point: in comment 7, is said that te study was controled for things like “race, age, sex, education, income, etc.”.

    But, if in a study about the effects of IQ you control for “education”, in the end it is not much clearly if the “explanatory variable” is IQ or is “underachiever-ness”.

    And I can imagine many ways why “underachiever-ness” can lead to “liberalism”/leftism.

  38. #38 Mike
    February 27, 2010

    The results put neoliberals in a bind. They would love to say that this proves that they are smarter than conservatives or smarter than atheists; but at the same time, the point spread (11 pts.; 6 pts.) is less than that between white and black IQ results (15 pts.). A decent respect for consistency would require that they either agree in all three cases or disagree in all three cases that IQ test results measure “intelligence.”

    The solution is to deny that the IQ results are meaningful in themselves, but nonetheless to hold themselves smarter than the common ruck.

    But then we note that the differences are for adolescents. Since a social marker of being with the Smart Kids and sitting at their lunch table is to adopt certain poses, especially poses that reject parental or social values, it would be no surprise that those scoring better on IQ are subject to peer pressure. And youth more so than anyone are subject to conformist pressures.

    Of course, to anyone versed in statistics, the whole thing is a crock. Social “scientists” don’t do statistics well.

  39. #39 Miguel Madeira
    February 27, 2010

    “The solution is to deny that the IQ results are meaningful in themselves, but nonetheless to hold themselves smarter than the common ruck. ”

    There is other solution – saying that IQ differences between “liberals” and conservatives, and between atheists and theists are the product of environment* (instead of inate) and that conservatism and religion will gradually disappear with social progress.

    “Since a social marker of being with the Smart Kids and sitting at their lunch table is to adopt certain poses, especially poses that reject parental or social values, it would be no surprise that those scoring better on IQ are subject to peer pressure.”

    1 – I think that my comment in 37 applies here (you are saying “some intelligente people tend to be «liberal» because they associate with other intelligent people who tend to be «liberal»”, but the original connection between «liberalism» and intelligence remains unexplained.)

    2 – “those scoring better on IQ are subject to peer pressure”; well, all the stereotypes about teenage/high-school society are in the opposite direction…

  40. #40 bryan pesta
    February 28, 2010

    Thanks for taking an honest intellectual take on IQ research here. Other science bloggers, not so much.

  41. #41 D
    February 28, 2010

    Hey bryan pesta, nice beatdown over there at the other blogger’s site.

  42. #42 rob
    February 28, 2010

    …saying that IQ differences between “liberals” and conservatives, and between atheists and theists are the product of environment* (instead of inate) and that conservatism and religion will gradually disappear with social progress.

    Well that’s largely true, at least for some aspects of conservatism and religtion.

    There’s the old adage that goes something like, “are you a liberal? Wait twenty years and you’ll be a conservative.” Twenty years might be too short. Thinking of gay rights, was there anyone on the left forty years ago who thought gay marriage was just totally, obviously a good idea? Depending where you live, fifty years ago totally reasonable conservatives thought racial segregation was just totally, obviously the way to do things. One would be hard-pressed to find people admitting that view today. That sort of conservative has mostly dissapeared.

    Forty years ago, there was a significant chunk of Americans who thought the Catholic Church should be allowed to censorship in the public sphere. Way fewer people think that these days.

    Of course liberals have a huge advantage, after a few decades, no one remembers the stupid things they wanted (communes, free love) but everyone remembers the good things they pushed for.

  43. #43 qqq
    February 28, 2010

    In regards to comments about college education confounding the supposed link between ideology and IQ:

    1) IQ is assumed to be independent of education level

    2) A person’s political ideology is typically pretty stable, despite the indoctrination theories. Check out this link:

    http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/archives/do_liberal_professors_indoctrinate_students/

  44. #44 bpesta
    March 1, 2010

    D

    I thanks much. I sincerely appreciate your comment.

    BP

  45. #45 bg
    March 3, 2010

    IQ was important to me once, took the Stanford Binet and joined MENSA once just to prove I could. Score 147. Just numbers!

    Common sense may not go with them–took me awhile to learn to use it. Sometimes still don’t.

    In my 30s I passed from Methodism to Agnosticism to…mysticism? I meditate and feel something. An energy. Same thing I feel doing Qigong or similar. Don’t label it but I do lean in the direction of Advaita Vedanta. And I am libertarian according to this test http://www.theadvocates.org/quizp/index.html (and have been all all my life although I only recently found out previously thought I was conservative).

    I’m 66.

  46. #46 Rita Handrich
    March 16, 2010

    You may be interested in our review of American attitudes toward atheists in the latest issue of The Jury Expert.

    Rita Handrich, Editor
    The Jury Expert