Missing Link Friday – Conservatism, prejudice and intelligence

Conservatism "thrives on low intelligence and poor information", writes George Monbiot who reports the results of, a recent study showing that "prejudice tends not to arise directly from low intelligence, but from the conservative ideologies to which people of low intelligence are drawn."

Earlier the Daily Mail enraged readers by reporting the study’s findings. The Guardian’s Charlie Brooker called it a deliberate act of trolling. In the US, Live Science ran the story provoking scorn and ridicule in conservative forums like Free Republic.

It started with a paper by Gordon Hodson and Michael A. Busseri in Psychological Science: ‘Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes Lower Cognitive Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup Contact’ (pdf). The researchers conclude:

Our synthesis demonstrates that cognitive ability plays a substantial role not only in predicting prejudice, but also in predicting its potential precursors: right-wing ideologies and authoritarian value systems, which can perpetuate social inequality by emphasizing the maintenance of the status quo, and a lack of contact and experience with out-groups.

Here’s a few of the online responses to the paper and the debate that followed.

Low IQ & conservative beliefs linked to prejudice: "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." Stephanie Pappas, Live Science.

Conservatism is linked to low intelligence; but the real idiots are the progressives letting it win: "There is plenty of research showing that low general intelligence in childhood predicts greater prejudice towards people of different ethnicity or sexuality in adulthood. Open-mindedness, flexibility, trust in other people: all these require certain cognitive abilities. Understanding and accepting others – particularly ‘different’ others – requires an enhanced capacity for abstract thinking." George Monbiot.

George Monbiot’s worst-ever Guardian column – and that’s saying something! "The first thing to be said about this supposedly definitive piece of research – Moonbat calls it ‘embarrassingly robust’– is that the authors, Gordon Hodson and Michael A Busseri, rely to a great extent on a measure of intelligence that has been discredited." Toby Young, The Telegraph.

Monbiot is aping old Right-wing elitists: "It was traditionally the authoritarian wing of the Right which wrote off its opponents effectively as retards, claiming that their ‘base motives’ would infect and destroy proper politics." Brendan O’Neill, The Telegraph.

Leftists don’t know what conservatism is: "What is going on of course is that Leftist psychologists swallow hook line and sinker of Leftist propaganda about conservatives. They believe that conservatives really are as Leftist propaganda describes them. It would appear that they never bother to talk to any actual conservatives to find out what they really think." John J Ray, A Western Heart.

This sort of research is essential and insightful: "We need to understand the patterns of cognitive variation, whether it be intelligence or personality, which may result in differences of opinion. At the end of the day no opinions may change, but one may be able to construct a crisper argument when taking into account the genuine roots of one’s political opponents viewpoints, rather than your own ill-informed caricature." Razib Khan, Gene Expression.

Truly, statistics can ‘prove’ anything: "What makes the study ludicrous, even ignoring the biases, manipulations, and qualifications just outlined, by the authors’ own admission the direct effect size for ‘g’ on ‘racism’ is only -0.01 for men and 0.02 for women. Utterly trivial; close enough to no effect to be no effect, their results statistically “significant” only because of the massive sample size." William M Briggs.

31 thoughts on “Missing Link Friday – Conservatism, prejudice and intelligence

  1. I should have thought the connection between racism and stupidity self-evident. Who could argue with that. Any cast back over history would also suggest that lower classes are socially conservative. That doesn’t make conservatism wrong. As Monbiot notes, lots of smart people are also conservatives. It looks like a cat. 5 has been jammed into that teacup.

  2. I think Monbiot is quite correct. The conservatives I know are invariably rather dense, and devoid of any depth of thinking capablity, as well as uneducated. Almost universally the university-educated people I know have a correct attitude to political issues.

  3. Is there a bit of conflating assumptions and conclusions here? Quite a few of the right-wingers I know are racist, but one of the ways in which I (and they) know they’re right wing is because they’re racist… (and yes, they do tend to be a pretty cognitively limited lot.)

  4. Just look at the low IQ level of the average poster at sites like Catallaxy and you see clearly the relationship between stupidity and bigotry.

  5. @Mozzie – yeah I hear that. A buddy of mine pursuing a PhD in neuroscience sent me a paper demonstrating facial expression recognition in dead fish, the implicit point of which was to show how if you conduct enough statistical testing you’ll generate a result (it used the same statistical methodology as a lot of supposedly serious neuroscience papers).

  6. With regard to statistics and massive sample sizes — a small effect can *ONLY* be measured with a large sample size. So if you believe that small things are still real things, then you need to accept the statistics of large samples.

    Having said that, the same large sample will also amplify tiny defects in your experimental design. To measure small things you need equipment built to a better tolerance than what you are measuring. Frankly I don’t believe there is any intelligence test that can deliver such precise results… especially not on a one-dimensional axis when intelligence comes in many flavours.

    I remember that infamous bell curve graph where various racial groups were compared using an intelligence test (you know, the one where the Asians were supposedly the smartest). Didn’t that get widely condemned? Does it mean the test is biased toward some particular result, or some other factor in influencing the outcome? There’s no way to tell. I strongly suspect there never will be a way to tell. As racial groups become more mixed by interbreeding it will only get more difficult to discover an answer, and perhaps pointless to try. Half-breeds tend to show better vigour than both their parents.

    Ian Milliss wants to talk about prison statistics, well go to the land of incarceration, and checkout the stats for racial groups in prison vs racial groups in outside society. Does this prove genetic programming for violence? Or does it show blatant prejudice in the justice system? Could be either, could be both, you would need a controlled experiment to be able to figure that out.

    I have one suggestion for an experiment (another of my randomized trials that would work but no one has the guts to discover the answer). Every defendant facing trial is given the option of volunteering to become an experiment subject. If they say “yes” then a random number is generated and their skin tone is adjusted by stage make-up to be randomly slightly darker or lighter than their real skin tone (not by a large amount, and done by professional artists so it looks real), or in some cases no adjustment is made. Then over time you correlate the random adjustment against trial outcome… for a large sample size if the make-up has no effect you would see a flat distribution when you plot the guilty/innocent percentages against the colour adjustment.

    Obviously this adjustment needs to be kept secret from the court and the jury until after the trial, which should not be too difficult if you are careful not to go overboard with the adjustment.

  7. I think you missed my point Tel. I don’t see what race has to do with it, the point I was making was that regardless of race, the politics of prisoners rarely fit an empathic leftish stereotype, rather the vast majority tend to be right wing and not very intelligent. I find it rather offensive that you should suggest that if they are right wing and not very intelligent then it is because of their race.

  8. Tel,

    Uhm.

    What I will say in the spirit of constructive engagement is that there are robust findings that black defendants are likely to get more severe sentences for the same offenses – especially drug offenses – than non-black defendants (controlling for previous form, of course). Also, you might also like to check out the work of Elizabeth Loftus and others on eyewitness recall. People can mis-recall the race of the person who robbed or beat them, and these mis-recollections tend to go one way more than the other. Guess which way?

  9. People can mis-recall the race of the person who robbed or beat them

    Yes this form of subconscious racism has been noted regularly for many years. I’m not even sure that using the word subconscious is accurate. White people in the USA in particular seem to have an irrational loathing of black people that depicts the lingering racism in that country. Once again it appears to be more prevalent among the uneducated lower class whites, particularly in areas that vote Republican.

    Much the same phenomenon appears in Australia, particularly in those rural areas where aboriginals are more numerous. Whites in these areas blame aboriginals for misbehaviour (particularly drunkenness and violence) that can be directly traced back to the dispossession of their land.

    I am of anglo-saxon descent myself (several generations), and cannot seem to help my perpetual feelings of guilt about my existence here in their land. I would really like to migrate away from Australia. I’m ineligible for immigration to any other country because of my age, so I have thoughts that the only just decision on my part would be self-termination on the grounds of social justice.

  10. Curious, where do conservative socialists fit on the IQ spectrum?
    The agrarian socialists around my neck of the woods might not be real bright , but they sure are cunning.

  11. “I’m ineligible for immigration to any other country because of my age, so I have thoughts that the only just decision on my part would be self-termination on the grounds of social justice.”
    Is it a possibility for you to volunteer to work among the less priviledged?
    There are plenty of countries where you can live for long periods as a tourist as long as you don’t cost the contry of residence anything.
    A more constructive approach might just help others – wouldn’t that be the best ?
    And I thought that New Zealnd welcomed us all?

  12. Or he could volunteer at the koori court, work at aborigine shelters, soup-vans are not arduous and serve a high proportion of aborigines in many areas … for the civiv-minded (read: conservative) amongst us there is no shortage of opportunities to assuage one’s guilt!

  13. “self-termination on the grounds of social justice”
    Hammy , if were properly prepared, you would make a lot of nutritious soup and some good leather , feeding and partially clothing the poor ,assuaging ‘social justice’ and reducing environmental footprint all in one go.

  14. I’ve been wondering why I wasn’t feeling any guilt at all about other people’s horridness, and now I know why: Hammygar’s feeling all the guilt for me, Dorian Gray-like. Such a terrible burden; it’s no wonder the bloke’s toppy.

    I prescribe a swim in the ocean, steaks and beers and some afternoon delight, not necessarily in that order.

  15. Pingback: Imagine if conservatives were found to be of lower intelligence and progressives were burdened with "liberal constipation" of the mouth? | Sago

  16. I find it rather offensive that you should suggest that if they are right wing and not very intelligent then it is because of their race.

    Ian, please, if you want to make up your own story, then be good enough to put your own name on it, rather than mine. All I said was, “checkout the stats” and what you find there is what you find there, nothing I put there.

    Dan, I don’t need Elizabeth Loftus to tell me people’s memories are imperfect… I work in I.T. support. I’d be the last one to claim our justice system is ideal, half of what police do is bullying and prejudice. However, if there is a broad and systematic bias then you haven’t linked to any evidence, and when you say things like “controlling for previous form” that’s a very difficult thing to do, considering the large numbers of environmental factors involved. That’s the problem with such a system, you can only compare it to something better, if you have something better.

    Then again, what is the ratio of men to women in prison? About 5 to 10 times as many men, there abouts. Probably caused by false memories, but them’s the breaks I guess. I’ll make sure if I see someone getting mugged I run in the opposite direction, just in case someone remembers me.

  17. I mean ‘form’ in the vernacular sense – previous offense history. Obviously affects sentencing, easy to control for statistically.

  18. This is just really terrible study design. It’s ironic that one would use a study trumpheting the intelligence of your peer group (and it must be pretty obvious the authors consider themselves progressive) which shows a complete lack of intelligence in design.

    The authors are either acting in bad faith,stupid or blind to their biases. My guess would be they are blind. I think Johnathon Haidt’s explanation of social pyschology academics as a moral community is apt here. He finds that only a couple of percent of social psychologist consider themselves conservative, so its not a surprise they don’t understand them.

    Another way to describe the results is that traditionalists like traditional things. Conservatives, who see more value in tried and true social conventions, are more likely to hold older views, which are less tolerant and welcome to outsiders.

    What personally annoys me is conflating people who have come to more conservative views through reflection and experience with those who are simply prejudiced or dumb. There is a big difference.

  19. maybe there’s a much more mundane explanation. If you have more money, you can ‘afford’ to be liberal. That is, you can buy your way out of the ghetto.

    Those in a lower SES (socio-economic status) can’t, and stand more to lose from liberal policies.

    In other words, however low their intelligence may be, they’re still able to see that liberal policies will:

    1. increase the likelihood that their job will be given to a black who is less qualified
    2. increase the likelihood that their daughter winds up getting liquored up and passed around by the basketball team (i.e., no segregation)

    In short, liberal policies f**k over the lower SES white man.

    Oh and letting the banks screw us all over is not conservative, it’s financially liberal.

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