Are Conservatives Stoopid?
Dr. John A. Sterling, MA, JD
Recently, I saw a couple of interesting “Scientific” studies that linked Conservatism and intelligence (or lack thereof). The premise seemed so implausible that I was compelled to look further into the matter. Having some background in statistics and research methodology, I wondered how relevant this “link” and whether any other scientists or “thinkers” had any input on the matter. It was an interesting little journey, the results of which I share with you now.
Published on the Internet on March 25, 2012 , I found this tidbit:
WEDNESDAY, May 25 (HealthDay News) -- Older adults who say they've had a life-changing religious experience are more likely to have a greater decrease in size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain critical to learning and memory, new research finds.
According to the study, people who said they were a "born-again" Protestant or Catholic, or conversely, those who had no religious affiliation, had more hippocampal shrinkage (or "atrophy") compared to people who identified themselves as Protestants, but not born-again.
(The study is published online in PLoS ONE.)
In the study, researchers asked 268 people aged 58 to 84 about their religious affiliation, spiritual practices and life-changing religious experiences. Over the course of two to eight years, changes to the hippocampus were monitored using MRI scans.
Although the article concedes that “As people age, a certain amount of brain atrophy is expected. Shrinkage of the hippocampus is also associated with depression, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.” Still, the article maintains that “The researchers suggested that stress over holding religious beliefs that fall outside of the mainstream may help explain the findings.”
In short, the researchers hypothesize that when one has a “born-again” experience, the new-found faith and belief system is so far outside of the “mainstream” that the new Christian experiences stress, which affects the hippocampus. Even though “The researchers noted other factors related to hippocampal atrophy, such as age, depression or brain size, as well as other religious factors such as prayer or meditation, could not explain the study's findings” the article still headlines that being “Born-Again” is “linked” to brain atrophy.
SO, I looked further to see what might be the cause of my “conservatism” besides my incredible shrinking hippocampus and other things that may be shrinking with age.
Some researchers try to explain “religiosity” as some kind of “evolutionary” outcome.
Satoshi Kanazawa in The Scientific Fundamentalist (Apr 11, 2010) notes that “out of more than 1,500 distinct cultures throughout the world documented in The Encyclopedia of World Cultures, only 19 contain any reference to atheism. Not only do these 19 cultures exist far outside of our ancestral home in the African savanna, but all 19 of them without an exception are former Communist societies. There are no non-former-Communist cultures described in The Encyclopedia as containing any significant segment of atheists.” (2) Kanazawa hypothesizes that “belief in higher powers is evolutionarily familiar and natural, and atheism is evolutionarily novel. The Hypothesis would therefore predict that more intelligent individuals are more likely to be atheist than less intelligent individuals.”
“Kanazawa says that humans are evolutionarily programmed to be conservative - to care mostly about family and friends, to believe in a supernatural power or God because of their paranoia about what they perceive as "unnatural" phenomenon, and, for men, to be polygamous.” (3)
Kanazawa acknowledges that “past studies have shown that women are more religious than men,” but that “the effect of childhood intelligence on adult religiosity is twice as large as that of sex.” In another study which I address later in this article, men test consistently MORE intelligent that women, so THAT research seems to contradict the whole “religious equals stupid” theory.
“As to monogamy, though the preliminary press information does not provide the exact IQ levels, the information does indicate that there was corroborative IQ data among males, with those valuing male exclusivity scoring higher on the IQ tests than the males favoring male polygamy. Kanazawa's argument is that exclusivity is a novel evolutionary value for men. “ (4)
Let’s see if I understand… according to THIS researcher, monogamy is a “conservative’ (i.e. evolutionary) result and yet males that favor exclusivity are MORE intelligent than males who favor polygamy . Excusame, but doesn’t contradict his earlier hypothesis ?
The German Newspaper Der Spiegel quotes from Kanazawa in concluding that “The more intelligent people are, the more they are willing to engage into something new. Conservatives and religious people, in turn, do have a lower intelligence quotient. Psychologists believe, the phenomena can be explained through an evolution-biological view.” (5)
The German writer observes from the research that “intelligent people tend more easily to accept social values as well as political and religious convictions new to the human evolution. The preservation of old values is, however, a matter of conservatives, who are supposedly less intelligent.” (6)
OK, so…conservatives resist “new” so that makes us dumber? Is there any truth to the old maxim that the smarter we are, the more we learn from OTHER people’s mistakes? Could it be that there really is NOTHING new under the sun (as we read in Ecclesiastes) and the supposedly more “intelligent” people really lack the “common sense” to avoid the pitfalls that have destroyed entire civilizations in the past? Thinking they have discovered some “new” social value, or political conviction, those with higher IQ are quick to discard convention, often, perhaps, with destructive results.
I noted that the original research was conducted with a group of only “268 people aged 58 to 84”. Old folks- Experienced folks (those, with shrunken hippocampi)- Folks whose experience might have led them to the rational conclusion that conservatism was the better alternative. Survivors.
J. Philippe Rushton, a psychologist at the University of Western Ontario, Canada wondered if sex had any effect on IQ. (7)
"For 100 years there's been a consensus among psychologists that there is no sex difference in intelligence," said Rushton. Recent studies, however, have raised questions about the validity of this claim, he said. One such study showed that men have larger brains than women, a 100 gram difference after correcting for body size. Rushton found similar results in a study of gender and brain size.
When Rushton and colleagues weighted each SAT question by an established general intelligence factor called the g-factor, they discovered that males surpassed females by an average of 3.6 IQ points.
Bruce Bracken, a psychologist at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, who was not involved in the new study, said he thinks Rushton and Jackson make a convincing argument for the sample they used.
"The difference appears to be real," Bracken said.
But he questions the team's conclusions. "I believe that the differences probably lie in the variables they hadn't considered," Bracken said.
In defense of the girls, a firestorm of protests resulted from the debate ignited by former Harvard President Lawrence Summers, who quoted Rushton’s research saying that at the high end of the distribution, men outperform women 10-to-1 .
"I don't think it has any real implications for education policy or schoolwork," he said. "In fact, females actually get better grades than males.” Plus, he doesn't think the IQ difference would show up in everyday activities. "For the vast majority of people in the vast majority of jobs, it really doesn't translate into very much," he said.
Summers tries to distance himself by asserting that “more research is required.” Well, I thought, wouldn’t a similar defense be advocated for Christians accused of being mentally inferior? Alas, I could find no scholarship in defense of the Christian or the conservative.
Science writer Deborah Blum, who surveyed decades' worth of research on gender and intelligence in her book "Sex on the Brain," raised bigger questions about the whole idea of pitting men against women in a showdown over average IQ.
"I would take any study that averaged results with an enormous grain of salt," she said. Males tend to show more variability than females in intelligence tests, which could skew the broader statistical results in favor of the males, she said. (8)
Blum's bottom line, however, is that it's not useful to engage in a sexual war over intelligence.
"It makes sense to say it's one big spectrum," she said. "It's all individual variability in the end. I think we're fooling ourselves to say we have identical brains. We don't. ... I get really tired of people telling me that."
I certainly agree with that but I couldn’t find a single article or a single spokesman so generous when the discussion turned towards Conservatism. It seems that, in order to find an advocate in academia, one must be a member of a “protected class” of citizen, which (apparently) Conservatives and Christians are not. Yet the exact same defense is available for Christians/conservatives as for women, blacks, poor people, and seemingly every other distinguished group being compared in IQ studies.
Proceeding further down this path, I discovered studies that “link” racism and intelligence. (9)
Scientists raised a BIG stink when their research “proved that white people were smarter than black people. James Watson, a Nobel Prize winner for his part in the unravelling of DNA who now runs one of America's leading scientific research institutions, drew widespread condemnation for comments he made. (10)
In a 60-page review of the scientific evidence, some based on state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of brain size, has concluded that race differences in average IQ are largely genetic.
“"Neither the existence nor the size of race differences in IQ are a matter of dispute, only their cause," write the authors. The Black-White difference has been found consistently from the time of the massive World War I Army testing of 90 years ago to a massive study of over 6 million corporate, military, and higher-education test-takers in 2001. "Race differences show up by 3 years of age, even after matching on maternal education and other variables," said Rushton (same J Phillip Rushton I quoted above). "Therefore they cannot be due to poor education since this has not yet begun to exert an effect. That's why Jensen and I looked at the genetic hypothesis in detail. We examined 10 categories of evidence."
Critics of Dr Watson (and the studies of both Jensen and Rushton) said there should be a robust response to (these) views across the spheres of politics and science. Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "It is sad to see a scientist of such achievement making such baseless, unscientific and extremely offensive comments. I am sure the scientific community will roundly reject what appear to be Dr Watson's personal prejudices.
While no one seemed prepared to argue the issue on the scientific merits, there was an undeniable outcry for someone to do so. I also am eager to see good science weigh in on the matter. Scince I have not read any of Watson’s research, (nor any of the other studies I reference in this article) I AM interested in (1) what science says, and (2) what people say who either agree or disagree with what science says. I bring this same interest to the table when the discussion is about Christianity or conservatism versus IQ. It seems as though the “science” is highly subjective and just as prone to ideological bias as “non-science”.
More research on the Internet revealed studies that DO seem to temper the tone of the debate on IQ. “Researchers have long debated what IQ tests actually measure, and whether average differences in IQ scores--such as those between different ethnic groups--reflect differences in intelligence, social and economic factors, or both. The debate moved heavily into the public arena with the 1994 publication of The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, which suggested that the lower average IQ scores of some ethnic groups, such as African-Americans and Hispanics, were due in large part to genetic differences between them and Caucasian groups. That view has been challenged by many scientists. For example, in his 2009 book "Intelligence and How to Get It," Richard Nisbett, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, argued that differences in IQ scores largely disappear when researchers control for social and economic factors.
In another study, motivation was considered a critical factor in the quest for understanding and measuring IQ. The same Richard Nisbett (above) said, “ Motivation, along with self-discipline, "are crucial. A high IQ and a subway token will only get you into town." (11)
When the evidence is ambiguous, it is all the easier for ideology to influence one’s scientific judgment. Liberals hope that social policy can redress life’s unfairness. Conservatives hold that natural inequality must be accepted as inevitable. When each side wants to believe certain scientific conclusions for extra-scientific reasons, skepticism is the better part of rigor. (12)
Another factor in IQ test results is wealth. Dr. Bruce Charlton, an evolutionary English scholar, just submitted a paper that argues that the poor are intellectually mediocre. (13) His critics say, “Charlton's tone, which seems to suggest that the poor are genetically inferior, is bothersome. Families working hard just to get by may not have the resources or time to foster their children's early education. Should higher education institutions and society in general take steps to correct the educational inequalities between the classes?”
Once again, without attacking the “science” detractors opposed the results. Non-scientists as well as other researchers weigh in and comment on the conclusions rather than the methodology. Sometimes the “research” seems biased from the onset. (I am thinking of the “global warming research”) If the non-scientific community learns anything at all, it should be to harbor a healthy skepticism towards any “scientific” study that (1) received any government funding, and (2) has NOT been peer-reviewed by members of the scientific community who ALSO have not received government funding (is that even possible?)
Before I leave this topic altogether, I found this: STRONG MEN LIKELY TO VOTE CONSERVATIVE
Physically strong men are more likely to hold right wing political views because they believe society should be geared to personal struggle and self-preservation, an academic study claims.
Researchers cite muscle-bound Hollywood action heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris and Sylvester Stallone as evidence that aggression is linked to conservative politics.
Researchers from Griffith University in Australia said the Hollywood examples were typical of a phenomenon among modern men with an aggressive side. Lead researcher Aaron Sell said men were 'designed for fighting' and the tougher they are, the more this influences their behaviour and attitudes.
In political terms they tend to take the more right wing view - be it Conservative in the UK or Republican in the US. (14)
There was no reference to the IQ, or the religiosity, or the inherent racism of those muscle-bound heroes so one is left to speculate on the relationships, if any.
There you have it. I am a conservative, NOT because I have low IQ, no wealth, racist attitudes, genetic abnormality, or whatever. I am a conservative because I am related to Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Chick Norris.
(1) at http://www.philly.com/philly/health/132456883.html