Conservatism and Low IQ

Whatever one thinks of the study referenced below, one has to admire the choice to illustrate the point:

As for the substance of the study, here is the 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.


Gordon Hodson, one of the authors of the study, was quoted in a Live Science article:

Hodson was quick to note that the despite the link found between low intelligence and social conservatism, the researchers aren’t implying that all liberals are brilliant and all conservatives stupid. The research is a study of averages over large groups, he said.

“There are multiple examples of very bright conservatives and not-so-bright liberals, and many examples of very principled conservatives and very intolerant liberals,” Hodson said.

All of this reminds me of the controversy surrounding The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray. The book asserted that cognitive ability can be expressed in a meaningful single number (g) and that it is substantially, though not completely, the result of genetics.

The book also argued that IQ tests accurately measure this ability and that those tests can be designed to eliminate bias. That led to controversy because the authors asserted that racial differences in IQ were real (blacks, for instance, tend to score lower on IQ tests than whites) and like all differences in IQ involves an important genetic component (so they argued).

Now, there was a raging debate after the publication of The Bell Curve and the author’s analysis was found to be wanting by many critics. Right now all I can offer is that I distrust such studies.  We don’t yet know enough about how the brain works to pronounce with confidence the relationship between “intelligence” (the definition of which is also problematic) and performance on IQ tests or the adoption of a set of beliefs.

But I do think there is validity in the idea that low intelligence folks tend to prefer black and white explanations of an otherwise complicated reality, and that would apply to people on the left and right as far as I can tell. (But some intelligent folks prefer the black and white explanations presumably because of the emotional comfort involved, so go figure.)

But I do like the idea that Donald Trump is the poster child for the alleged link between low intelligence and racism and conservative beliefs.

About these ads
Leave a comment


  1. Reading some of the comments in the Globe from people who cannot write a complete sentence state that they do not want the rich to pay more taxes proves this point. They tend to believe that they will hit it big, presumably by playing the lottery or at a casino, and when they do, they don’t want to pay taxes. I have debated with a few of them on this topic, and not one of them will state that they work for a living or who they are, but they can criticize me for wanting the Waltons and most evil Koch brothers to pay more taxes. They are truly pathetic.

  2. RDG,

    Connor Freiderdorf’s piece in The Atlantic, “If the Republicans Lose in 2012, Expect Business as Usual” should be a wake up call for self-identified conservatives. Freiderdorf is a political conservative.

    • John,

      I agree with his analysis of the situation. And I like that phrase, “Conservative Entertainment Complex.” But, alas, there just aren’t very many sensible folks around on the right these days.


  3. ansonburlingame

     /  February 4, 2012

    Publish a study showing blacks having less intelligence, IQ, cognitive ability, etc. and you ignite a veritable fire storm.

    Then the above study comes to light. Think there will be any fire storm?

    Turn someone like the above researcher loose on the Tea Party and he may well come to the conclusion that members or supporters of such are simply “dumb red-necks” though phrased in a more polite manner. Duane has suggested such predominates Tea Party rhetoric and thus “thinking” for several years now. Obviously only stupid people could imagine having a smaller federal government that stuck to Constitutionally proscribed limits, right?

    Then Duane uses a picture of Trump to make his point about the intelligence of conservatives. I suppose it was a joke. He could have put Romney’s or Gingrich’s picture “up there” as well, I suppose. I’m surprised he did not put Reagan’s beaming countenance there as well.

    But put a picture of Obama under a caption detailing a study related to low IQ and OMG!

    I started to become incensed over this blog. But why bother. Duane has been telling us how stupid conservatives are for lo these many years now. For him to stoop this low now is just business as usual “over here”.

    So I close with only one point or question. If Trump is so dumb, how did he make so much money?


    • King Beauregard

       /  February 4, 2012

      You actually raise a better question than you think: if this country is indeed the level playing field conservatives insist it is, why aren’t there more rich conservatives? To be sure you’ll find conservatives among the wealthiest Americans, but what about the rank and file, the vast majority who are making less than $250,000 a year … why hasn’t the conservative recipe worked out for them? Is it that they simply prefer not to achieve the wealth that Donald Trump has?

      By the way, Trump was able to get his start working at his dad’s company, so I’d have to say he made so much money by being born to the right family.

      • Perfect point about Trump. When you start out life on third base and you eventually score a run, it is easy for the spectators to forget how you got on base to begin with. That is also Romney’s story.

        And the reason there aren’t more rich conservatives (or rich anybodys) is because the idea is to keep people thinking they can become rich, even though the deck is always stacked against most folks. This idea is a very powerful meme in our culture and from the point of view of the very wealthy it needs to be sustained or else folks will wake up one day and realize they have been duped and start a revolution.


    • Anson,

      I don’t know why you bother to comment on a piece you obviously did not read carefully. You do that all the time, though, so I guess I should expect as much after all these years.

      You wrote,

      I started to become incensed over this blog. But why bother. Duane has been telling us how stupid conservatives are for lo these many years now.

      Except that I haven’t done what you allege. You are just making false statements, Anson. You have been hanging around Geoff so long that he has rubbed off on you. Just to get the record straight, before you write your own blog based on such a falsehood, please read this, which was included in the above piece:

      Right now all I can offer is that I distrust such studies.  We don’t yet know enough about how the brain works to pronounce with confidence the relationship between “intelligence” (the definition of which is also problematic) and performance on IQ tests or the adoption of a set of beliefs.

      Again, I should be used to your conclusion-jumping and inability to restrain yourself from commenting without having actually read what I wrote, or better yet tried to understand what I wrote.

      Or is this just a chance for you to write this:

      But put a picture of Obama under a caption detailing a study related to low IQ and OMG!

      OMG, indeed.


    • Anson,

      It would be abominable should anyone publish a photograph of President Obama atop a post wondering if scientific study can determine whether or not African-Americans are genetically less intelligent than Caucasians. We agree on that. But you’re reading something into Duane’s piece that isn’t there. I’m sure that my take on why Tea Party base conservatives erupted in protest following the 2008 elections differs from yours. The internet is full of disturbing signs carried by Tea Party patriots that have nothing to do with demanding smaller government. Perhaps you can explain how someone waving a sign that reads, “Keep the government’s hands off my Medicare” is an informed citizen, but I can’t.

      As for Donald Trump, I fail to see why Mitt Romney would publicly accept his endorsement. Maybe he believes there’s an upside to sharing the stage with a crash self-promoter associated with “reality” television and the odious “Birther” movement.

    • The following is not a joke
      In 2007 Alabama’s State senator Shadrack McGill approved a 61% pay increase for the part-time legislators, from $30,710 to $49,500 annually. At the time he said that the increase better rewards lawmakers, and makes them less susceptible to bribes from lobbyists, and corruption. Last year, in 2,011, McGill introduced a bill that would tie legislators’ pay to the average teacher’s pay, including benefits. He claimed teachers in Alabama rank fourth in the nation in average pay and benefits of about $65,000.

      Fast forward to the comments he made last week with respects to the drive for an increase in teachers’ salaries:
      ……….. Teachers need to make the money that they need to make. There needs to be a balance there. If you double what you’re paying education, you know what’s going to happen? I’ve heard the comment many times, ‘Well, the quality of education’s going to go up.’ That’s never proven to happen, guys.
      “It’s a Biblical principle. If you double a teacher’s pay scale, you’ll attract people who aren’t called to teach.
      “To go in and raise someone’s child for eight hours a day, or many people’s children for eight hours a day, requires a calling. It better be a calling in your life. I know I wouldn’t want to do it, OK?
      “And these teachers that are called to teach, regardless of the pay scale, they would teach. It’s just in them to do. It’s the ability that God give ‘em. And there are also some teachers, it wouldn’t matter how much you would pay them, they would still perform to the same capacity.
      “If you don’t keep that in balance, you’re going to attract people who are not called, who don’t need to be teaching our children. So, everything has a balance.”


  4. KB makes good points.

    Generalizing is always dangerous.

    I realize that I’m generalizing here, but as is often the case when I generalize, I don’t care. — Dave Barry

    I recall reading that MENSA membership correlates poorly with wealth, meaning that merely being “intelligent” (as measured by tests) doesn’t ensure getting rich. As for IQ, the tests are generally useful but they are too dependent on cultural context for other than gross value judgements, something Duane also noted. An example: every once in a while I read about someone who has been a big success in business, usually a house-developer or small businessman, who is discovered to be illiterate. Sometimes, I think, this is due to dyslexia. QED.

  5. ansonburlingame

     /  February 4, 2012


    I assume you are not suggesting that Trump is dumb, no matter how he got his start. He may be a lot of things but DUMB is not one of them.

    So why indeed do people of limited means become political conservatives? Duane has posed that question many times. It is beyond him to think that someone needing something would NOT be in favor of a liberal government to meet their needs.

    I grew up with limited means. Almost ever friend I had in school was of limited means. Some of the best naval officers in history were from and remained within limited means. Yet those folks were and are generally conservative.

    It is really very simple, KB. Some people refuse to ask for help and instead put forth the effort to achieve their own goals or needs. And if they fall short they do not blame it on the government or someone else. I know plenty of people with reasonably low IQs but retain a sense of “honor” to work to achieve their own goals and expect NO ONE to “give them a hand up”. In fact some in that category would spit on the hand if offered.

    To me that is not DUMB. It is a sense of human dignity, call it “honor” if you will.


    • King Beauregard

       /  February 4, 2012

      So you chose not to become a millionaire … why again? Because you lack the capacity for greatness that, say, Trump possesses?

  6. ansonburlingame

     /  February 4, 2012

    Do you want to argue about my net worth over time or about why people of any means, limited or otherwise consider conservatism the correct political path? No worth the effort with you, KB.


    • King Beauregard

       /  February 4, 2012

      Quoting you from earlier:

      “So I close with only one point or question. If Trump is so dumb, how did he make so much money?”

      You’re the one who opened this can of worms.

  7. One doesn’t need to be intelligent to work hard and do what they believe in. The question is; are we intelligent enough to believe in things that benefit us, or at least the majority of us?
    Can we be easily persuaded, perhaps emotionally, to believe in things that benefit only ‘the persuaders’?
    I suppose that one can be very intelligent and gullible at the same time, but surely the study shows that more often than not, that’s not the case.
    What IS the matter with Kansas? (and other states) where common people repeatedly vote against their own best interests?
    I like to nickname the problem as “emotional IQ”. Being intelligent doesn’t mean that your emotions won’t over-rule your intellect.
    If we could raise the emotional IQ of the voters, surely the people would vote against most modern conservative talking points and ignore the hot-button, fear mongering issues that permeate today’s Republican politics.

  8. Sekan,

    Well said.

  9. ansonburlingame

     /  February 6, 2012

    I suppose that (what Sekan says above) is why our liberal vs conservative argument is so hard to understand, one side understanding (not just arguing against) the other.

    All humans have self interest beginning with the intstinct of fight or flight, or resolving hunger pangs or seeking shelter in a storm, etc. It moves on up the hierarchy of needs triangle for all of us.

    The essential difference between conservative and liberal thinking in America today, seems to me to center around achieving individual/family/community needs through individual/family/community efforts, private efforts if you will. Or on the other hand seeking the hand of the federal government to meet many of our individual/family/cummunity needs.

    Conservatives believe “we” can do best for ourselves and do not need or what federal government intrusion into our lives EXCEPT for very basic, call them Constitutional protections (like national defense, etc). Liberals call for more and more federal government involvement in our individual/family/community day to day lives.

    By and large the METRIC that shows how out of balance we have come, nationally, is our total inability to meet or financial obligations to PAY for the things demanded from the federal government.

    One side says make that federal government larger, more intrusive, and the other says make it much smaller, less intrusive and we (individuals/families/communities) will take care of ourselves.

    To me the resolution is to BALANCE our federal budget and KEEP IT BALANCED. We as a nation must learn to live within our means.

    Agree with me on THAT point and only THEN can we have the debate over how much money MUST go to the federal government to perform the functions desired by a majority of people. You might be surprised how HIGH I might agree that taxes must go on all Americans to then pay for our federal government.

    But raise taxes on ANYONE, without first agreeing to balance the budget and keep it that way, well I will fight you tooth and nail on such a call. We have been doing such, raising and lowering taxes but NEVER living within our means (except for four years) over the last 50 years.


  10. Hooray! As a disaffected, if not “former”, conservative, should I hope my standard IQ score has increased???

    • Oh, my. The guy is a doctor and a second cousin (five times removed) to Henry Clay! Maybe I should reevaluate my take on the IQ tests.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 580 other followers

%d bloggers like this: