The Study on Intelligence and Religion That You Weren’t Supposed to Hear About

Yoda - the beautiful union of intelligence and spirituality (and possibly also dyslexia).

Yoda – the beautiful union of intelligence and spirituality (and possibly also dyslexia).

Numerous studies have consistently arrived at one and the same conclusion: religious people are less intelligent than atheists. So maybe we should accept this fact and move on. Nah, just kidding. On the contrary, when behavioural scientists all come up with the same result it’s time to get suspicious. The normal thing in this field is a variety of results.

So, now that we’re all duly suspicious, the next step is critical scrutiny. I’ll just look at some of the major studies in recent time, but it should give you an idea of the situation.

Nyborg

In 2008Danish psychologist Helmut Nyborg conducted a study that showed that atheists scored an average of 1.95 IQ points higher than agnostics, 3.82 points higher than liberal persuasions, and 5.89 IQ points higher than dogmatic persuasions. This may sound impressive but Nyborg’s sample was made up of children age 12-17. It is well known that both intelligence and personality are under much larger environmental influence during childhood than in adulthood. Nyborg himself noted that religion declines under this period but failed to see how this makes the study flawed. Whatever the environmental factor is – peer pressure, rebellion etc – it decreases with time. This sort of short-term environmental influence goes for intelligence as well. It becomes stable once you reach young adulthood. So young people make a horrible sample for making general conclusions of how religion and intelligence might be related.

Lynn

The same year British psychologist Richard Lynn (together with Nyborg) conducted a similar study. He simply compared the national averages of intelligence and rates of disbelief in God in 137 nations, making up 95 percent of the world’s population. Lynn found a very high correlation of 0.6 between these two variables. While this design appears to give the final answer, it is in fact measuring widely different countries which makes it very problematic. On such problem is that if we look at the big picture most nations in the world have an IQ close to 100 and then we have the Muslim nations that average around 80-85. So a large part of Lynn’s findings is about Islam, not religion in general.  If we restrict this sample to Western nations the correlation drops to 0.42. Lynn also admits that the surveys on religious disbelief may have problems with low response rates, being representative of the population etc. It remains an open question how much further the correlation would drop if we could adjust for this factors but we can’t so it really isn’t more than guesswork.

Kanazawa

The third major study in recent years was conducted by Japanese psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa, who of course corrected the persistent flaw of using children in his samples. Well, kind of. He used participants aged 18-28 to measure religiousness but then took the same participants IQs at age 12-17 so it’s not much of an improvement. His sample was also the 75 percent remains of an original sample which leaves the question of how representative it was open. Kanazawa also made another mistake in how he measured religiousness. Rather than using a multidimensional test to separate quality and quantity he merely had people answer how religious they were on a scale from 1 to 5.  A fundamentalist will no doubt claim to be “very religious” and score a 5. If his intelligence is low (and there is something to suggest this, more on that later on) then that would contribute to the relation between religion and IQ by suggesting that a non-fundamentalist is essentially the same kind of person but with a slightly weaker faith. There are various ways a person can be religious but Kanazawa suggests this is a matter of degrees and in doing so everyone gets to be stupid on behalf of the fundamentalist. Furthermore he uses a simple vocabulary test as a proxy for IQ. Given all these problems, Kanazawa finds that atheists average around 103 in IQ and the very religious at 97. With all the crap he has been pulling I suspect even his fans were a little disappointed with such a meagre result.

Gary J. Lewis?

Although these three studies have been very publicized and quoted, there was a study conducted by psychologist Gary J. Lewis and colleagues at the University of Edinburgh in 2011 that never got much attention. This study actually used an adult sample (mean age 48), measured several aspects of religion and featured a composite measure of intelligence. It did have some limitations in that the sample was mainly White and only concerned itself with Christianity. But it should provide a pretty good picture of the relation between Christianity and intelligence among White Americans.  An especially interesting feature was that it controlled for the personality trait Openness to experience, relevant to both intelligence and religiousness.  So what did they find? Well, they did actually find that religious people are less intelligent, but the results may still come as a surprise. Here is the gist of it from the article,

 The results indicated that intelligence is significantly negatively associated with five of the six measures of religious belief, confirming previous work (Bertsch & Pesta, 2009; Kanazawa, 2010; Lynn et al.,2009; Nyborg, 2009). Certainty about these findings is enhanced by the fact that, in the present study, these relationships to intelligence remained after we controlled for both openness and education, two potentially confounding factors. It should be noted, however, that the effect sizes were small for all associations with intelligence, the largest being the modest intelligence–fundamentalism link (β=−.13), with all other associations estimated at less than β=−.10.

Note the level of these correlations. It’s a well-known fact that variables of this kind always correlate with each other so small correlations are to be taken with a pinch of salt. Here is one take on correlation levels from David Buss & Randy Larsen’s textbook (which I highly recommend) Personality Psychology: Domains of Knowledge About Human Nature (2010),

Although what is considered large or small depends on many factors, social scientists have adopted a general convention. Correlations around .10 are considered small; those around .30 are considered medium; and those around .50 or greater are considered large (Cohen & Cohen, 1975).

So, four of six measures of religiousness showed less than small correlations, a level you might call negligible. Spirituality was unrelated to intelligence, and, perhaps most surprising, fundamentalism (of the Christian variety that is) showed only a small correlation of -0.13.

We Are All Stupid in Our Own Way (Except Me)

Now, the higher quality of this study means that the correlation can be taken more seriously. But at the same time the result indicate that not even the fundamentalists are very unintelligent. This may seem puzzling but fundamentalists are mainly considered stupid because the deviate from the norm.  Consider for instance the mainstream delusions of Optimist Bias. This refers to how ordinary people have an optimism which goes against common sense. Typically the majority of all people believe that they have a lower than average risk of becoming alcohol dependent, catch an STD or have a heart attack. This rosy outlook is of course mathematically impossible but those who engage in this sort of thinking are not in general considered stupid, most likely because they are in majority.

And What About Openness?

I almost forgot the interesting trait known as openness which is known to be related to intelligence as well as a liberal attitude. It was actually slightly related to two measures of religiousness, spirituality and mindfulness, while unrelated to the others, with the exception of fundamentalism which it was slightly inversely linked to (-0.12) – which is pretty much what you’d expect. Another interesting finding is that fundamentalism was unrelated to both sex and gender, contradicting the notion of this person as a middle-aged or older man.

Hopefully, there will be more high-quality studies like this one to put the religious-people-are-so-stupid research to rest. The interactions of intelligence, religiousness and personality are very interesting and deserve a better fate than to be skewed and dumbed down for ideological purposes.

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28 Responses to The Study on Intelligence and Religion That You Weren’t Supposed to Hear About

  1. adambnoel says:

    An interesting collection of studies for sure. I also think there exists a binomial distribution for intelligence among the religious. The lower tier is due religion being the default for most of the world and the upper tier due to the religious intellects.

  2. Staffan says:

    You mean like a normal distribution? It seems likely. Most behavioral traits have that distribution, although in more atheist countries it may look different since the religious person is then breaking the norm or at least not following it.

  3. Luke Lea says:

    Being “religious” is such a nebulous term. Especially for atheists who tend to have an un-nuanced conception of the term. Then you have to separate matters of “belief” with matters of “belonging to a group.” Fundamentalism is often more about the latter than the former — and that still leaves out belief in what exactly? The Apostles Creed? Or something a lot more simple like, there is a God and you will be judged. And then there is the whole question of uncertainty. I don’t think this subject can be explored very well outside of extended interviews. The differences are as much or more qualitative than quantitative. Just my hunch based on personal experience. For instance, my mother, and outspoken atheist, asked that Amazing Grace be sung at her funeral. Or my wife, who says “she doesn’t believe a word of it,” admitting one night what amounted to a very spiritual interpretation of the universe — something that would never have come out under ordinary circumstances (since I’d never heard it before in 30 years of marriage). For myself, I consider myself a tortured agnostic: I worry that their might be a God and I will be judged. But quite apart from that issue, I am highly convinced that the Hebraic conception of a God who is just and judges all men by a single standard of equity (see link below*) has had an enormous influence on history. In a very instrumental sense that God, even if he might not exist today, has existed in the past. And his residue is with us still.

    You have an interesting blog. I will try to follow you some.

    * https://sites.google.com/site/thetorahandthewestbank/

  4. Staffan says:

    I think Lewis’ study is a step in the right direction but you can never really probe what’s in people’s heads. There are atheists that pray when they are in trouble and believers who doubt. Some believe in scriptures others believe in what they experience or intuit.

    But the main point is that no matter how you measure it, religion is more than an idiot’s wishful thinking. I have always suspected this since creationists in America are doing pretty well for themselves, and IQ correlates with education and income. As I mentioned earlier here, part of that is due to Conscientiousness, but that trait correlates to work performance around 0.25 as opposed to IQ at 0.6 so it can only do so much.

  5. Staffan says:

    Regarding the West Bank, I think this is a clear matter of tribalism, and I think the Orthodox, are more realistic. They may falsely justify their claims with the Torah (I wouldn’t know by just reading your article) but their strategy is one which will keep Israel from obliteration. Muslims are all very tribal. Jews, it seems to me, are divided in a tribal orthodoxy and liberal seculars. The latter want to negotiate. But that’s the multiculturalist attitude I think of as the liberal suicide. I remember seeing on tv the reporter asked a Palestinian if there was something the Israelis could do to make them content. He waved his hand dismissively and said (quoting from memory here), “If we play our cards right, we will have it all.” That, I think is the tribal attitude in a nutshell. The result of any negotiation is merely a bridgehead for further expansion.

    What the secular/liberal Israelis, and Westerners in general, need is a modern, rational and non-suicidal approach to hostile tribalism.

  6. Luke Lea says:

    Well, I agree with much of what you say here, maybe all of it. Even so there are other possibilities, though not in this generation. Radical Islamism will have to burn itself out first, and Europe will have to accept responsibility for starting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hard to imagine, I know, but not inconceivable. Til then Israel is justified by necessity, I mean the right of self-preservation, and I support her in the main.

  7. Benjamin David Steele says:

    There is also the important distinction or religiosity vs spirituality. There was a study that found people who have spiritual experiences begin to attend church less often. So, there may be an inverse relationship between religiosity and spiritual experience. I would add to this that spiritual experience correlates to the trait openness to experience and the thin boundary types, both of which correlate to higher IQ as I recall. However, there may be a subgroup of people who rate high on having spiritual experiences and yet remain religious in terms of church attendance. Obviously, the mere lack of not attending church would unlikely have any direct causal relationship with higher IQ.

    • Staffan says:

      In Lewis’ study spirituality is a dimension of religiousness. It’s possible that people who have these experiences attend church less but not necessarily because theyve lost their faith. They may feel that they have a better understanding in direct experience than by going to church.

      I also believe I’ve read that spirituality correlates to openness which in turn correlates some 0.35 to IQ, but spirituality was unrelated to IQ in this study.

      • Benjamin David Steele says:

        That is interesting. I don’t think spiritual experiences cause loss of faith. That would be counter-intuitive. But there might be an interesting distinction between the religious measuring relatively lower on openness and the spiritual measuring relatively higher. I have no idea how or why that might relate to IQ. The religious demographic is so vast that it would be hard to generalize too much about them. Those who’ve had, or rather who would admit to having had, spiritual experiences might make a more interesting group to study for they might be smaller in number.

  8. Staffan says:

    It could be that spiritualism is more open in that it relies on experiences (it’s literally called openness to experience) whereas traditional faith relies on scriptures and religious authority.

    That said, I suspect the correlation between openness and IQ is partly an artefact of wishful thinking among the 95 percent liberal psychologists who find it useful. There are some studies that suggest that openness minus IQ equals hipster on food stamps. Just being liberal per se is probably not such a blessing.

    • Benjamin David Steele says:

      You have to make many other differentiations as well.

      Despite not identifying as ‘liberal’, most Americans are more liberal than the MSM portrays or politicians realize, more ‘liberal’ on quite a few major issues than are the so-called liberal elite.

      http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/political-elites-disconnected-from-general-public/

      http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/who-supported-the-vietnam-war/

      http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/us-demographics-increasing-progressivism/

      http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/07/26/warmongering-politicians-progressive-public/

      http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/sea-change-of-public-opinion-libertarianism-progressivism-socialism/

      Also, there is a difference between liberalism as an ideology and liberal-mindedness, the latter being more directly correlated to social liberalism. Many conservatives and even more libertarians are relatively liberal-minded which in our society often simply manifests as moderation.

      There isn’t even a consensus about liberalism in the US with all the weird mixes:

      Puritan-descended townhall direct democracy, Quaker live-and-let-live pacifism, Shaker and Pietist communitarianism, Dutch secular multiculturalism, Paine’s Agrarian Justice, Henry George’s views on land and taxes related to that of Paine, founding fathers and Adam Smith who criticized economic inequality as undermining free markets and/or a free society, Radical Enlightenment influences, a variety of classical and neo-classical liberalisms, social democracy, democratic socialism as in municipal socialism in Milwaukee, progressivism, neoliberalism, mainstream liberalism, Democratic Party partisanship, general social liberalism, liberaltarians/left-libertarians, etc,

      Plus, as some argue, America has never had a strong conservative tradition. When the US declared independence from Britain, we severed ourselves from the British tradition of conservatism that sought to maintain unity between Britain and the colonies. To see what British conservatism is like, look at Canada’s moderate political tradition that seeks slow reform instead of radical revolution.

      The higher IQ measured among liberals is probably nor more nor less an artefact than the higher IQ measured among American whites and the even higher IQ measured among American Asians. Blacks and hispanics tend to be more socially conservative and tend to have higher rates of religiosity than whites on average. It is complex, but human biodiversity theory predicts such differences. It also could be explained by other theories as well. Many things would factor in: poverty, economic inequality, malnutrition, lead poisoning, environmental pollution, quality of education, time parents have to read to children, violence and trauma, genetics, etc.

      There is also the correlation to geography and ethnic culture. Northern states tend to have more Northern European ancestry along with more support of liberalism and social democracy. Where do you find higher IQs? In the North. Even blacks have higher IQs in the North. Blacks in some Northern states have on average higher IQs than most Southern whites.

      We could argue the reasons for this. I would argue it isn’t religion, though, or not in any simplistic sense. i noticed an interesting map the other day which I blogged about:

      http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/religious-adherents-concentrated-in-central-us/

      There actually isn’t a North/South divide in the concentration of religious adherents. On the other hand, there is a North/South divide in terms of the outward forms of religion (i.e., religiosity). Religious people in the North, even in the rural Midwest, don’t tend to politicize religion as much as Southerners do. So, there are distinct cultures of American Christianity.

      Mormons and many Southerners supported New Deal Progressivism. Many major progressive leaders came out of the South.. We think of progressivism and liberalism as the same today. In some cases that is true, but there is a diverse history behind progressivism. Even the KKK supported ending child labor and universal public education.

      Within Evangelicalism, most people don’t realize that many identify as liberal or progressive. Religiosity and liberalism aren’t inherently opposite categories. Such apparent opposition as portrayed in the MSM is contingent at best. The most loud religious people tend not to be liberal or progressive, but that is far from saying most religious people in American people haven’t been liberal or progressive. Before Northern religiosity became fully adapted to the South in early American history, Evangelicalism was very liberal and progressive.

      http://www.baylor.edu/mediacommunications/news.php?action=story&story=42646

      http://www.christianpost.com/news/evangelicals-defy-stereotypes-more-liberal-on-issues-30970/

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/georgette-bennett-phd/evangelical-christians-the-first-american-liberals_b_2544282.html

  9. Staffan says:

    Sure, there is a problem in defining the dichotomy liberal/conservative but there are some clear criteria as well – like views on ethnic minorities, LGBT, gender issues the environment, death penalty, abortion, gun control. Your view on issues on these topics can be predicted by whether you self-identify as liberal or conservative. So while messy, there is still a pattern there.

    But I’m uncertain as to the point you’re trying to make here since you bring up so many things in this comment. My point about openness is that it measures a set of liberal attitudes and asks whether people read a lot and then bundle that together in a liberals-are-so-smart trait. It seems to me that they could get more validity if they replaced it with something similar to Jungian intuition.

    • What point I’m trying to make?

      I was just trying to describe the confusion of ideologies in the US. I was also trying to show how labels are in some ways arbitrary. It isn’t the label that defines the person but the person who defines the label. Liberal and conservative meant something quite different when my grandparents first was eligible to vote which isn’t that long ago in the big picture.

      Liberalism used to be a very large and inclusive category. Old school Republicans like Eisenhower and Nixon would speak positively of liberalism. These days it has become a very narrow term. I don’t know if it has narrowed in definition, but it has narrowed in demographics.

      Liberal as a label isn’t comparable to conservative as a label. Conservatism has become an amorphous category. If given a forced choice, most Americans will identify as conservative. But if asked about particular issues, most Americans will more often state support for liberal issues. This is what is called symbolic conservatism. So, conservatism includes both those that support the most radical of right-wing politics and those who support standard liberal politics.

      As for those who identify as liberals, they are more comparable to the demographics of libertarians. Both groups are a smaller portion of the population. Both tend to be above average in wealth and education. It would be surprising, going by these demographic facts, if they weren’t above average in iQ. Wealthier, well-educated people in general tend to have higher IQ for a host of reasons as I’ve pointed out, many of which are environmental. Also, wealthier, well-educated people have more opportunities such as legacies that allow them to go to the best ivory League schools. Furthermore, both liberals and libertarians tend to be socially liberal and measure high on liberal-minded traits such as openness to experience.

      So, maybe it isn’t that liberals and libertarians are inherently smarter in that these labels don’t magically confer intelligence. It’s just that because of present societal conditions the wealthier, well-educated demographic tends to identify as either liberal or libertarian. I guess you could call this an artefact, but I doubt it is because of wishful thinking.

      Is there a reason you’d think people who are above average in wealth and education wouldn’t also be above average in IQ?

      The tricky part, as always, is determining the reasons for the correlation and whether there is a causal link between the factors or to some other factor.

      • Staffan says:

        I do actually believe people with higher education and income have higher intelligence. I just haven’t seen credible statistics that says liberals are smarter. The media like this idea; that’s probably related to why they made a big deal about Kanazawa’s study and disregarded Lewis’ study, even though the latter was of much higher quality. I suspect if there was a good study that clearly showed that liberals are smarter the media would be all over it, since they are all over crappy studies like that of Kanazawa.

        But those knowledge quizzes Pew do are always won by people who vote Republican. Not to say that’s the final word but there is reason to be suspicious because their is a media bias.

      • “I do actually believe people with higher education and income have higher intelligence. I just haven’t seen credible statistics that says liberals are smarter.”

        The data I’ve seen shows that liberals tend to be more well educated and wealthier than the average American. College professors, college students and the college educated are disproportionately liberal. It is also known that higher education correlates to higher IQ. So, it would be bizarre if most average liberals (or libertarian) got their above average education without being above average in IQ. That would be counterintuitive and contrary to the pattern fitting other well educated groups.

        There are many lower class conservatives, but because of the rhetoric since the Reagan era the lower classes have mostly stopped identifying as liberals at all. They might call themselves independents, moderates or progressives, just usually not liberal because that label has become stigmatized in the mind of the average American. As such, there would appear to be a lot less distance between the average liberal and the liberal elite than there is between the average conservative and the conservative elite.

        This can be seen in the parties. Back during the Reagan administration, many moderates, independents, liberals and union members voted for Reagan and identified as Republican. It was a really broad party back then, as it had been in the decades before that as well. Surprise, surprise, the Republicans at that time had a higher average IQ than did the Democrats. Today, however, Democrats have a higher average IQ. Also, today, the Republican Party is no longer a big tent party that is inclusive of anyone other than conservatives. Why did the Republican’s average IQ go down as their rates of conservatism went up?

        There is something interesting about Democrats these days. The Democratic Party is now broader than the Republican Party, even as those who identify as liberal have narrowed. Only about a third of Democrats identify as liberal, another third as moderate and the rest conservative. Minorities have lower average IQs and are more socially conservative than most Americans and at the same time they tend to vote Democrat. This mean that the non-conservative non-minority Democrats must have very high average IQs to make up the difference and still maintain the higher average IQ than Republicans.

        I don’t know entirely what that might mean. I’m not a Democrat and don’t feel any need to defend them. But the data seems to confirm that something of relevance is going on.

        “But those knowledge quizzes Pew do are always won by people who vote Republican. Not to say that’s the final word but there is reason to be suspicious because their is a media bias.”

        There are several distinctions to be made.

        Democrats aren’t the same as liberals since there are nearly as many self-identified conservatives in the Democratic Party as there are self-identified liberals. Democrats include the most well educated and the least well educated, but the least well educated Democrats are also the ones least likely to identify as liberal and more likely to identify as conservative.

        If you look at those political knowledge quizzes, you’ll see that groups that are known to be extremely liberal do very well on them. For example, the audiences of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are always at the top of the most informed about politics.

        If you look at other data, you’ll find that Republicans and the audiences of conservative shows often show high rates of being informed. The interesting part, though, is that they also show high rates of being misinformed. This is called the smart idiot effect. They tend to watch tons of political shows and they know a lot of information, but they unfortunately aren’t good at discerning between what is true and what is false. So, it isn’t just that there are both Republicans who are very well informed and others who are very misinformed. Rather, Republicans are more misinformed precisely to the degree they are informed. That is mind-blowing!

        You don’t find this same high rate of smart idiot effect among liberal groups. this might relate as well that the most liberal demographic (i.e., the youngest demographic) get more of their info from alternative media than any other demographic. Part of this difference is because conservatives are a relatively older demographic who rely more on the established mainstream media. The younger generation is way more socially and fiscally liberal on most issues, way more critical of capitalism and way more supportive of socialism. Furthermore, the younger generation along with higher rates of alternative media consumption have higher rates of college education.

        I’m not arguing low IQ liberals don’t exist. Besides, if it becomes a label that more people identify with beyond those who are above average in education and wealth, then the average IQ of liberals would probably decrease some or quite a bit (while the rate of the smart idiot effect might increase). Broaden the demographics behind a label and the IQ range will likewise broaden, specifically in this case among the less well educated lower classes and minorities.

        Related to party politics, consider geographic regions and areas. Conservatives are disproportionately found in the South and liberals disproportionately in the North. It was through the Southern Strategy that the Republican Party took over the South. The average IQ in the North is higher than the average IQ in the South. Or look at this in terms of rural and urban. The rural areas tend to be more conservative and have lower average iQ and the opposite for urban areas.

        If you’re interested to know why and on what basis I make the above analysis, here are a variety of things that inform my views:

        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100224132655.htm

        “Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) support Kanazawa’s hypothesis. Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as “very liberal” have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence while those who identify themselves as “very conservative” have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence.”

        http://people-press.org/report/?pageid=949
        “Most (62%) identify themselves as liberal… most highly educated group (49% have a college degree or more)… Liberals are second only to Enterprisers in following news about government and public affairs most of the time (60%). Liberals’ use of the internet to get news is the highest among all groups (37%).”

        http://www.people-press.org/2005/05/10/profiles-of-the-typology-groups/

        http://www.people-press.org/2009/07/09/section-4-scientists-politics-and-religion/

        http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/02/04/news-iq-education-politics/

        http://www.halfsigma.com/2006/06/democrats_may_n.html

        http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2012/01/social-conservatives-have-a-lower-i-q-probably/#.UdnWJTvMCSo

        http://ebiquity.umbc.edu/blogger/2009/04/25/conservatism-and-cognitive-ability-are-negatively-correlated/

        http://truth-out.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=6892:the-republican-brain-why-even-educated-conservatives-deny-science–and-reality

        http://www.livescience.com/18132-intelligence-social-conservatism-racism.html

        http://www.salon.com/2012/04/10/foxs_misinformation_effect/singleton/

        http://www.salon.com/2012/02/24/the_ugly_delusions_of_the_educated_conservative/singleton/

        http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/white-supremacy-defeated-yet-again/

    • I wanted to clarify one thing. I don’t think we are fundamentally disagreeing. Like you, I have great interest in personality, moreso than politics. I’m not an ideologue, but I do see politics similar to culture as a useful lense to explore psychology.

      I don’t care about liberalism in and of itself. And the so-called liberal elite often irritate me. I agree that the average liberal, the average conservative, and other relatively more privileged people have no reason for being proud of achieving more than those with fewer opportunities, resources and advantages that come from upper class social capital.

      Besides, I’m more interested in general liberal-mindedness, upon which all social democracy is dependent upon. Even the average modern conservative is more liberal-minded than the average conservative of past centuries. Liberal-mindedness does correlate to liberalism but not perfectly or absolutely.

      My father is a conservative, especially fiscally conservative, with libertarian tendencies. He worked in the business world where he had a successful career, but ended up being a professor. Two things stand out about him, as relevant to this discussion. I’m sure his IQ is well above average. And he has great capacity for liberal-mindedness, most certainly above the national average.

      I must give credit to my father for my own liberal-mindedness. My parents were going through a liberal phase of their life when they raised me, although they have never identified as liberal. Even more significant, they raised me in one of the most liberal Christian churches in the US, Unity Church which is New Thought. My father says my mother even was pro-choice when she was younger, but se denies it now. I have to at the same time also give my parets credit for my conservative streak.

      People are complex, way more complex than political ideologies and religious theologies. Still, within that complexity, patterns can be detected.

  10. Staffan says:

    True, I’m myself socially conservative and economically a leftist. And the government here, the former socialist party are socially liberal and fiscally conservative. There are many possible combinations, few of which end up on the ballot.

    • Where do you live? I sometimes mindlessly forget that I might not be talking to a fellow American. That complicates things even further in discussing ideologies and political labels.

      • Staffan says:

        I live in Sweden, probably the most liberal country on Earth. But I use the word “liberal” in the American sense on the blog. Here liberal tends to mean socially liberal or libertarian with no connotation of progressive or leftist.

  11. Staffan says:

    Those studies and articles don’t say much. Kanazawa’s study is actually the one I commented on in my post above – it’s obviously flawed. Would you count yourself as misinformed because of it? I doubt it. Would a psychologist (95 percent of which identify as liberals) pick up on that and make a study on it? No way in hell. And if someone like Gary Lewis did they’d ignore it like they ignored his clearly superior study mentioned in the post above. They do what they do in order to get a result which confirms their preconceived beliefs. And that’s not a liberal or progressive thing; it’s so common it’s just human nature.

    • “Those studies and articles don’t say much.”

      They say no more nor less than any other scientific data. Dismissing them out of hand isn’t helpful. Kanazawa’s study is just one among many. I even purposely quoted that article about his study because it pointed out that his data was confirmed by other data.

      “Would a psychologist (95 percent of which identify as liberals) pick up on that and make a study on it?”

      Yes, most academics, scientists and other well educated people identify as liberal. And yet you oddly find it surprising that well educated people have above average IQs. Ask yourself why, in the first place, conservatives are on average less well educated, specifically in the context of higher education having an extremely strong correlation to higher IQ.

      I have nothing against Gary Lewis’ study. However, as far as I can tell, it only dealt with certain factors of religion and not conservative vs liberal.

      Many religious people are liberal, especially greater social liberalism among the religious who are middle class and upper class. Also, even though in the US there are a lot of poor religious people, those who attend church most often and are most involved in religious activities the most tend to be those who are wealthier and hence who are more well educated. So, there is a very mixed demographics in religion that isn’t found within, for example, contemporary American liberalism.

      Gary Lewis’ study doesn’t speak to this greater complexity of the relationships between religion, ideological labels, socio-economic status, and cognitive development. I would also add the issue of psychological traits. The real issue I’m trying to disentangle here has to do with this larger context of factors.

      In the US, liberals unlike conservatives are disproportionately found among the middle to upper classes which correlates to above average education and IQ. If you just look at middle to upper conservatives, you would expect to also find above average education and IQ. Ditto for any similar wealthier group. You’d have to explain why what applies to all other wealthier people doesn’t apply to contemporary American liberals who tend to be wealthier.

      This ideological pattern of demographics in the US may not fit the pattern found in other countries. Maybe liberals elsewhere don’t tend to be above average wealth, education and IQ. That would then require an understanding of what liberalism is in different contexts and whether there is any general cross-national pattern at all to be found between ideologies and other factors.

      I feel wary about generalizing too much. A lot of research I’m familiar with has come from studies done in the US, but American demographics and ideologies aren’t representative of the rest of the world. For example, research has shown that there is a greater correlation with authoritarianism among American conservatives. This isn’t to say that there is anything inherently authoritarian about conservatism in general, but that the issues movement conservatism has emphasized in America has drawn into the ranks those who rate higher on authoritarianism. Nonetheless, there are conservative traditions that are explicitly non-authoritarian.

      As I’ve pointed out, I have a conservative streak. The type of conservatism that I’m fond of has more to do with agrarian traditionalism, specifically as described by Wendell Berry. The problem with American conservatism is that it doesn’t tend to be very traditional. A distinction is that mainstream American conservatives tend to be very supportive of capitalism even when it is destructive of traditional values such as a place-based sense of community and localized kinship social order.

      I don’t know about liberalism, but I know there is a similar thing with data about left-wing politics. In the US, left-wingers tend to rate low on authoritarianism. But in communist countries, left-wingers have measured high on authoritarianism. And I’d be unsurprised if left-wingers in authoritarian communist countries had lower average IQs than left-wingers in non-authoritarian countries.

      I think you are seeking to criticize from the wrong angle. Religiosity can’t be used as a proxy for conservatism nor liberalism a proxy for atheism. You need studies that specifically include all of these factors and seek to discern the causal links.

  12. Staffan says:

    “They say no more nor less than any other scientific data. Dismissing them out of hand isn’t helpful. Kanazawa’s study is just one among many. I even purposely quoted that article about his study because it pointed out that his data was confirmed by other data.”

    How much they say is a matter of quality and it’s clear that Kanazawa did several things that reduce quality – the age of the interviewees, the one-dimensional measure of religiousness, measuring intelligence with vocabulary. I’m not dismissing anything out of hand, but I have to see something better than that before I take it seriously. The set of data confirming his study is in fact the one he was using. The article just frase it like that to make it sound better than it is.

    Me earlier, “Would a psychologist (95 percent of which identify as liberals) pick up on that and make a study on it?”

    “Yes, most academics, scientists and other well educated people identify as liberal. And yet you oddly find it surprising that well educated people have above average IQs. Ask yourself why, in the first place, conservatives are on average less well educated, specifically in the context of higher education having an extremely strong correlation to higher IQ.”

    My quote is about bias, but anyway, I don’t think it’s surprising that people with higher education have higher IQs. As I said earlier,

    “I do actually believe people with higher education and income have higher intelligence. I just haven’t seen credible statistics that says liberals are smarter.”

    You making the assumption that since people with higher education usually identify as liberal and are of high intelligence this means that there is a strong correlation between liberal view and intelligence. But it doesn’t follow. You need to prove it and there is no such proof forthcoming.

    “I have nothing against Gary Lewis’ study. However, as far as I can tell, it only dealt with certain factors of religion and not conservative vs liberal.”

    At least he measured several aspects of it; Kanazawa only measure belief in general. Yes, he measured conservative and liberal but again it’s children – in many ways the wrong sample.

    “Gary Lewis’ study doesn’t speak to this greater complexity of the relationships between religion, ideological labels, socio-economic status, and cognitive development. I would also add the issue of psychological traits. The real issue I’m trying to disentangle here has to do with this larger context of factors.”

    That was not his intention. He looked at how religiousness related to intelligence and he found evidence going against the common idea that religiousness and intelligence are strongly correlated – even fundamentalism was just a slight -0.13.

    Complexity without quality is just going to muddle things.

    “In the US, liberals unlike conservatives are disproportionately found among the middle to upper classes which correlates to above average education and IQ. If you just look at middle to upper conservatives, you would expect to also find above average education and IQ. Ditto for any similar wealthier group. You’d have to explain why what applies to all other wealthier people doesn’t apply to contemporary American liberals who tend to be wealthier.”

    Again, this is jumping to conclusions using a series of correlations. A correlating with B and B with C doesn’t mean A correlates with C.

    If you’re right, Kanazawa, Lynn or Nyborg could have made the sort of high quality studies that Lewis did. But they were too eager to confirm what they already knew so they ended up with inferior studies – most likely because a more stringent approach didn’t deliver the desired results.

    “As I’ve pointed out, I have a conservative streak. The type of conservatism that I’m fond of has more to do with agrarian traditionalism, specifically as described by Wendell Berry. The problem with American conservatism is that it doesn’t tend to be very traditional. A distinction is that mainstream American conservatives tend to be very supportive of capitalism even when it is destructive of traditional values such as a place-based sense of community and localized kinship social order.”

    I agree. I mean, would Edmund Burke have voted for the Republicans? I think not. A lot of what original conservatism is about is today viewed as liberal. Global capitalism is killing the social fabric built up by family life, traditions, religion, local community etc. And the environment, the big prerequisite for everything else.

    “I think you are seeking to criticize from the wrong angle. Religiosity can’t be used as a proxy for conservatism nor liberalism a proxy for atheism. You need studies that specifically include all of these factors and seek to discern the causal links.”

    You need to establish one thing at a time rather than figuring it out all at once. Lewis has taken one real step – the others are just engaging in wishful thinking.

  13. “How much they say is a matter of quality and it’s clear that Kanazawa did several things that reduce quality – the age of the interviewees, the one-dimensional measure of religiousness, measuring intelligence with vocabulary.”

    I offered this link which is of an article written by a conservative:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2012/01/social-conservatives-have-a-lower-i-q-probably/#.Udw5ljvMCSp

    From that link, you will find the link to the study itself:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22222219

    In the blog, the author explained about the quality of the study:

    “Yes, they used different types of intelligence tests; verbal and spatial. Yes, they corrected for socioeconomic background. Their replication was in the UK and USA.”

    Along with other caveats, he offers this important detail about the study:

    “It is important to emphasize that the authors do not posit an independent direct causal connection between low I.Q. and more reactionary attitudes towards race and homosexuality. Rather, they start out with a model where low cognitive ability people are drawn (or remain in) to conservative orientation, and this is further correlated with these specific racial and sexual attitudes. Like almost all psychology you can’t get the causation airtight (if you are a hardcore Humean you could probably say this for everything), but the correlation is suggestive in light of political and psychological models.”

    T’his is basically along the lines of what I’ve been saying. Correlation between higher IQ and liberalism (or just liberals in certain countries) is not the same thing as causation. But the correlation still remains and appears to have good studies backing it up.

    I offered another blog about yet another study. Here are the links to both:

    http://ebiquity.umbc.edu/blogger/2009/04/25/conservatism-and-cognitive-ability-are-negatively-correlated/

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160289609000051

    As the blogger notes:

    “The paper describes a meta-analysis based on data from three studies that employed the same set of psychological measures. Twenty-two of these measures were selected, drawn from four domains: personality, social attitudes, values, and social norms. While the paper finds strong support for the hypothesis that low cognitive ability is associated with high conservatism it doesn’t make any statements about causality.”

    Once again, causality is the tricky part. Nonetheless, it is irrelevant for the point I’ve tried to make in my comments. I honestly admit to not knowing for sure why this particular correlation continually is found in so many different studies. I think many people get upset because they read into this an argument for causation, but that doesn’t seem to be what most researchers are proposing at this point.

    A third link I offered is of an article that appears to refer to the same study as referred to in the first link above:

    http://www.livescience.com/18132-intelligence-social-conservatism-racism.html

    From that article, a critic points out the correlational nature of such research:

    “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.”

    That could be seen as a criticism, but from my point of view the correlation alone is interesting. Notice that even a critic like this admits that the correlation was demonstrated by the study. His criticism is that there is a lot of complexity involved and also other similar correlations might be found with other extreme ideologies.

  14. I was thinking of a way of getting at a place of agreement between us. In my previous comment, the last quote was of a critic. He made a good point about low IQs maybe being correlated to extreme ideologies in general, whether right-wing or left-wing. That seems a key point to my mind.

    From what I can tell, both of us agree that there is a distinction between being conservative and being right-wing. In the US and similar countries, however, conservatism and right-wing ideologies have become conflated. But the same thing hasn’t happened as much in recent history with liberalism and left-wing ideologies because Cold War fear-mongering has caused liberals to disown and distance themselves from left-wingers, although this might be changing now with new criticisms against capitalism arising in the mainstream again.

    Going by this, the reason lower IQ would be correlated to conservatism is because conservatism has become correlated to right-wing ideologies. So, it might actually be right-wing ideologies that is forming the correlative bridge between lower IQs and conservatism, and hence no direct or even indirect causal link may exist between them.

    What extreme ideologies may signify is simply authoritarianism. In the US, conservatives on average measure higher on authoritarianism than liberals. This is yet another one of those correlations with no certain causal link. At the same time, liberals and left-wingers in the US measure low on authoritarianism, but the opposite is found in authoritarian left-wing countries. The key component seems to be when a particular ideological movement becomes conflated with authoritarianism and hence conflated with extremist ideologies.

    We’d need to look at countries where right-wing ideologies and fiscal conservatism don’t dominate. In an authoritarian fiscally liberal left-wing country, I suspect that the minority of counter-cultural ‘conservatives’ would have above average IQs. Maybe it could be as simple as low IQ people in general just like to fit in with the dominant ideology of their society or are less likely to think outside of the dominant ideology of their society.

    At present, the right-wing ‘conservative ideology of capitalism dominates nearly all of Western civilization and most of the rest of the world through globalization. So, one would expect to find the high IQ people disproportionately opposing or standing outside of this dominant ideology. It could be a mere historically contingent condition of the ideological spectrum.

    Does that make sense?

  15. Staffan says:

    “Going by this, the reason lower IQ would be correlated to conservatism is because conservatism has become correlated to right-wing ideologies. So, it might actually be right-wing ideologies that is forming the correlative bridge between lower IQs and conservatism, and hence no direct or even indirect causal link may exist between them.”

    Sort of. I would say it’s more a case of motivational thinking in that conservatism in these studies is measured as right-wing authoritarianism in order to achieve a politically desired correlation by a core of 95 percent liberals who by their own admission would discriminate against conservative colleagues. That said, wouldn’t rule out a slight correlation. After all, Lewis found fundamentalism and IQ correlating -0.13.

    “Maybe it could be as simple as low IQ people in general just like to fit in with the dominant ideology of their society or are less likely to think outside of the dominant ideology of their society.”

    That may be true but perhaps only within populations. The Japanese are highly conformist and highly intelligent. At the same time a person of low IQ should feel comforted by a society in which he can lean on rules and traditions. It’s complicated…

    In general, we need objective measures. And as Jonathan Haidt points out, a method of building institutions that can’t be hijacked by this or that group of people. Right now psychology is hijacked by liberals and rather then peer reviewing they just pat each other on the back and defend themselves against any non-liberal influence.

  16. […] was having a discussion with another blogger, Staffan in his blog Staffan’s Personality Blog. His blog was […]

  17. A. Theist says:

    “Typically the majority of all people believe that they have a lower than average risk…This rosy outlook is of course mathematically impossible”

    It is mathematically possible. There is a difference between Average and Median.

    – an Atheist

    • Staffan says:

      Thanks for you remark. My point, though, is that there is such a thing as optimism bias, which seems to be a pretty well-researched phenomenon, and that it is an irrational way of thinking.

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