The Corrupt Person – Just Like You and Me?

March 25, 2013

"We're all friends here."

It’s well-known that crime is related to personality. The so-called Dark Triad traits of Psychopathy, Machiavellianism and Narcissism are more common in criminals than in the rest of the population. Basically, these individuals are impulsive, manipulative, self-centered and callous. Now, corruption is a form of crime so it would make sense that it too related to personality, especially to those traits mentioned above.

Unfortunately, there are no individual measures of corruption. Most of this activity is hard to detect directly so it’s measured indirectly by asking people how corrupt they perceive their environment, like their nation for instance.  And such a measure, like the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI ), can then be compared to national averages of personality traits. That should give at least a hint of if and the two are related.

The Data

I haven’t found any international studies on the Dark Triad, so I compared international personality data compiled by psychologist Richard Lynn (1995) using the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ).  This measure has at least one scale, Psychoticism, that has been clearly related to crime. In spite of its name it is a trait very similar to Psychopathy which is common in the prison population. I compared the EPQ data with the global anti-corruption organization Transparency International’s CPI (2012). There are some flaws in that the comparison refers to different years, but things don’t seem to change that much in either personality or corruption so I don’t think it’s a big deal. And as you can see…

 

CPI on the y-axis and Psychoticism on the x-axis. Remember that CPI measures lack of corruption

CPI on the y-axis and Psychoticism on the x-axis. Remember that CPI measures lack of corruption

 

…it’s a miss! The CPI measures lack of corruption so the -0.13 means that the correlation is not contradicting the hypothesis but it’s way too low to make a case of. This only suggests that the corrupt person has a normal or slightly elevated level of Psychoticism. Let’s look at the two other traits of the EPQ, Extraversion and Neuroticism. Here are the scatter plots,

CPI on the y-axis and Extraversion on the x-axis.

CPI on the y-axis and Extraversion on the x-axis.

 

CPI on the y-axis and Neuroticism on the y-axis.

CPI on the y-axis and Neuroticism on the y-axis.

 

Both correlate stronger with corruption than Psychoticism does, although still not very impressive: -0.19 for Extraversion and -0.18 for Neuroticism. This indicates that the corrupt person is fairly normal. This makes sense from a statistical perspective. Few people would consider stealing a car or breaking into someone’s house. But lots of people will take and receive “gifts” to grease the wheels a little. If the corrupt person would be the same as the criminal then Psychopathy and other extreme personalities you see inside the prisons would be much more common in the general population. So it’s got to be a fairly common personality.

Intelligence

Then there is the matter of intelligence. There is hardly anyone who would contest that corruption and national averages of intelligence are inversely related. Looking at Lynn’s data this is very clear,

CPI on the y-axis and IQ on the x-axis.

CPI on the y-axis and IQ on the x-axis.

 

The correlation is -0.69 which is very respectable. A study from 2011 by economist Niklas Potrafke, also using data from Lynn and the CPI, found a 0.63 (using the inverse CPI). Clearly, intelligence is a much stronger factor, but a factor which is related to personality. In my data I found a -0.54 correlation between Extraversion and IQ.  Although there is no consensus on this, it seems like more studies today do find a negative correlation between Extraversion and intelligence on the individual level, although not by far as big as I found here using national averages. For instance, a recent study found a -0.2 correlation between Extraversion and vocabulary. Extraversion may be linked to corruption merely due to its link to low intelligence, but I suspect it is a contributing factor in its own right, more on that later.

So, based on these figures, who is he, the corrupt person? An Average Joe? The data from Lynn suggests that it might be a completely average person, or maybe someone who is a little more extraverted, emotionally unstable and…well psychopathic (it may not sound like it but it is a dimensional trait like the others).  But hardly anything that would strike anyone as out of the ordinary. His most conspicuous trait would be his low intelligence, and living in a country with a low average IQ even that would not be conspicuous to his fellow countrymen.

The Extraversion Hypothesis

That said, the EPQ is just one measure among many and the quality of data is no doubt increasing over time, so the picture will eventually grow clearer. The correlation with Extraversion remains intriguing and this traits relation to intelligence is still not clear. Corruption is most likely also situational which may account for some of the high corruption in Eastern Europe, which is still recovering from the collapse of communism. For Western Europe the Extraversion/corruption correlation is -0.31. So while, it’s clear that IQ is the major factor affecting corruption levels, it seems like Extraversion can have something to do with it as well.

The link to intelligence is of course interesting itself, since it is by no means evident why a country with a low IQ would be more corrupt. It’s easy to imagine a dishonest but intelligent person trying to beat the system with corruption, for instance. Potrafke suggests that intelligent people have  longer time perspectives so they realize that they win in the long run by not resorting to corruption. Personally, I don’t buy that explanation. Do people abstain from corruption because they’ve made some pragmatic calculation? No, I think it’s more visceral. Taking a bribe just doesn’t feel good. It’s a matter of shame. And those taking the bribes just don’t feel ashamed. Why not?

The Link to Tribalism

I would say they lack shame because of their tribalism. And I’m not just saying that because my previous post was about tribalism and it’s lingering in my head : ) It is a fact that the most tribal societies in the world can be found mainly in Africa and the Middle East. And this is where the IQ levels are the lowest and corruption the most spread.  Now, the highly tribal person will not look at the public good, he will look after the interests of his tribe. And if his society is made up by several such tribes – and they all are – then he will ignore the public good and side with his own. So he will have no qualms engaging in accts of corruption as long as it benefits his group. There is no shame in it because his “real” society is the tribe. Sure, he could help his tribe even more in the long run by co-operating, but tribalism dates back to a time when there was no such co-operation.

So tribalism can explain corruption, but it can also explain low intelligence. Tribalism means conforming to the group and not thinking for yourself. That alone should put a limit to the intellectual growth.  Tribal societies also show clear signs of inbreeding . Since they can’t trust foreigners, they marry their relatives, and that is a great way to decrease your IQ. So instead of assuming that low intelligence causes corruption, which intuitively makes little sense to me, tribalism can be the cause of both these factors.

And what does this have to do with Extraversion? As I mentioned in my previous post, tribalism should be viewed as a personality trait in its own right. But traits are rarely completely distinct from each other.  My suspicion is that the tribal person is more extraverted than the average. If your life is all about the group then you’re probably interacting with other group members a lot. This didn’t show up in the study I mentioned in the previous post, as some of you might remember. But that was just one study and the participants were all from America, a country with a fairly low level of corruption. It can be harder to detect there than in the more to the clan-based societies that actually show clear signs of inbreeding. (For more on inbreeding and its effect on society, check out hbd* chick.)

I’ll get back to this if I can find more data on inbreeding and extraversion. Lynns data do support this idea but there are just too few tribal countries in his sample. Who knows, this theory may even hold for some Western groups, like Christian conservatives.  I wouldn’t rule it out.


Men Vary More Than Women in Personality

March 11, 2013
I was going to illustrate this post with a variety of men, but everyone was so ugly I chose actress Juliet Landau instead.

I was going to illustrate this post with a variety of men, but everyone was so ugly I chose actress Juliet Landau instead.

It’s well known that men and women differ on some personality traits, most notably neuroticism, when averages are compared. But another way to compare the sexes is by looking at how much men and women vary within their groups. In a new study, psychologists Peter Borkenau, Robert McCrae and Antonio Terracciano have done just that. Using data from 51 cultures with more than 12K participants they have looked at observer ratings of someone each participant knew well. Using a measure of the Big Five, they found that men were generally rated with more variation than women on all traits except neuroticism, which was slightly more varied for women. They also found that women rate people with more variance than men.

Why Would Men Be More Varied?

One possible explanation for this could be evolutionary. While women have a high parental investment, their reproductive success has depended on physical health and social skills. Men have had more ways to be reproductively successful – the can be hunters or gatherers, leaders, highly organized, manipulative etc. Since all of these strategies relate to personality this would mean that more variation in traits would be selected for among men than women.

A case could also be made for gender roles influencing variance – men are simply allowed a broader range of behaviors than women. This is one of those nature/nurture questions – do social norms form behavior or does behavior form the norms? One way to settle this question (in this instance) would be to look at variation in behavior that violates social norms. This can be easily found in personality disorders, conditions that constitute extreme and maladaptive personalities. These are much more common among men than women, and a big reason why the prison population is made up to 90-95 percent by men. Their behavior is extreme and unacceptable, contradicting the idea that social norms can explain the variance. So more likely, this is a product of evolution. This of course all depends on if you view personality disorders as extreme variants of normal personality or not, but both behavioral and genetic links between the two suggest that they are.

Why Do Women Give More Varied Ratings?

This may relate to the fact that women varied more on neuroticism, a trait relating to social interactions. It may be that their social skills – observation of others no doubt being a crucial part of these skills – make them more accurate judgers of personality. The authors refer to other research that has reached this conclusion. Which makes me wonder: if women are better judges of character, why aren’t they the preferred choice of raters in personality research? It’s also interesting to note how few women there are in this field given that they are superior to men in this very fundamental aspect.

Is Male Variation a Good Thing?

Given what I just said about the prison population, it’s far from certain that this male variation in personality is a good thing, neither for the individual nor for society.  After all, evolution is not adaptive in the short term; there are plenty of examples of how our evolutionary nature collides with the modern environment, obesity being the most obvious. That said, crime is far from the only aspect of this variation. According to the study it concerns four of five basic factors of personality. Luckily the study included some social variables. Here is what they found,

The sex differences in variability in personality were more pronounced in the more developed, more gender-egalitarian, and more individualistic societies.

This suggests that male variation is a good thing. One explanation could be that nations compete with ideas. And variety in personality means a variety in how people in a country think, which makes for a variety of ideas that in turn translates to wealth. This variation largely coincides with IQ measure of different countries so it’s a little hard tell exactly how much of the wealth is due to intelligence and how much is due to variety.

Why Do Countries Vary in Variety?

This is probably something those Human Biodiversity buffs might have an answer to. It seems likely that inbreeding would reduce variance as well as intelligence. In line with this idea, Muslim countries (known for very high levels of inbreeding and low IQs) had on the average a lower level of male variance  and those who were above average were very close to it. Some countries break this pattern by showing little male variance but high IQ levels, most notably Hong Kong and Japan. But overall, variety seems to be of great importance. This is a field of research that is still pretty new so it will be interesting to see where it leads. No doubt some traits will be more important than others, and some of these may not be captured in the Big Five model. Honesty/humility and sensation seeking come to mind. And different combinations of traits might also be important. I’ll get back to this if I find something interesting in the numbers.

 


Are Illegal Immigrants Taking Jobs from Americans?

February 18, 2013

Your answer to that question will probably depend on your political views. Illegal immigration is much more of concern for Republicans than Democrats. According to a Gallup 82 percent of Republicans but only 48 percent of Democrats believed that stopping illegal immigration is a top priority. And one of the common arguments for this seems to be the idea that illegals take jobs from Americans. But is there a way to objectively answer the question?

I think there is. If we look at the unemployment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the statistics of illegals from Slate/PEW, there is a connection. If we compare these data using a scatter chart this becomes evident,

linear-regression-image.php

The X-axis shows unemployment by state and the Y-axis shows the illegal immigrants as a percentage of the state population.  The steepness of the regression line illustrates the correlation between the two variables, in this case it’s roughly 0.5. That is a clear indication that there is some type of connection.

Still, correlation is not necessarily causation. We could have a reversed causation or third factors affecting both variables. As for reversed causation, that would mean that high unemployment in and of itself would somehow attract illegals, which seems highly unlikely. After all, high unemployment means fewer jobs and that’s what they came for in the first place. As for third factors, this also looks unlikely. The bad economy is of course a global phenomenon which causes hard times both in America and Mexico, thus giving rise to unemployment as well as illegal immigration. But it doesn’t explain why illegals would seek out the states with high unemployment.

The most obvious reasons that those jumping the fence end up in certain states seems to be geographical proximity. If we look at Slate’s map chart it is clear that the border states along with Nevada, the non-border state closest to Mexico, are the most popular.

This does suggest that illegals do take jobs from Americans. And it raises some tough questions regarding the future of the border states. What happens when illegals become citizens? If they do, they will no longer be attractive on the job market. Will new illegals take their place and eventually become citizens creating a never ending influx of Mexicans to America? That, of course, is impossible – the entire population of Mexico can’t live in America.

But even if illegal immigration is stopped today, there are a lot of problems facing the border states.  When illegals become legals they can no longer boost businesses by offering lower than minimum wage pays, so tax revenues from these businesses shrink. At the same time they will become eligible for various entitlements, which will increase public spending in a time when America’s public debt is large and increasing.

It’s hard not think that  in the future this will mean that minimum wages will have to come down to fight unemployment (Californian unemployment is at 10-11 percent as it is). And the quality of healthcare, education, other public services will decrease drastically as all these new citizens will require the services but without creating any tax revenues to pay for it. If this process goes far enough the border states will in most aspects become the northern part of Mexico rather than the south western part of America.

A strategy of dimishing returns?

A strategy of diminishing returns?


Solving a Mystery for Satoshi Kanazawa

February 14, 2013

Over at the Big Think, psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa lists what he considers the unsolved mysteries of evolutionary psychology. One of these mysteries is the question of why people with many siblings have many children. According to Kanazawa this doesn’t make any evolutionary sense at all,

This is because people with many siblings have the option of investing in their younger siblings and increasing their reproductive success by doing so.  Humans are just as genetically related to their full siblings as they are to their own biological children; both share half their genes.

I think the solution to this mystery can be found in viewing extraversion and introversion as evolutionary strategies. There is plenty of research showing that extraverts are more sexually active than introverts. This would lead to them having more children (we’re dealing with an evolutionary time scale so we can ignore the effect of contraception), and since it’s also a highly inheritable trait it would make a person with many siblings more likely to have extraverted parents and for that reason he is likely to have inherited their extraversion and have many children himself.

But if so, why aren’t we all extraverts – if it’s enables us to spread our genes so well? To understand this I think we need to look at differences in this trait between people living in environments with varying degrees of resources. In good times with plenty of food available, extraverts would propagate and spread their genes by having many children but a relatively small parental investment. But sooner or later hard times would come and then the introverted strategy of few children and high parental investment would pay off. If there is a scarcity of food, giving all you can spare to one child rather than sharing it between 4-5 children becomes a winning strategy. That way, hard times would ensure that genes for introversion would survive.

Now, it’s a fact that different regions vary in resources. People who have originated in a cold climate, or at least in a region with long cold winters should, if this theory is correct, have a higher level of introversion than people from warmer regions. We are all familiar with the stereotypes of the introverted northerners and extraverted southerners. Is there any truth in it?

Looking at extraversion scores from Richard Lynn’s study (1995) of 36 (I omitted Iceland because it has a microscopic population) nations there is actually a bit of a pattern supporting the theory.

The average level of extraversion for all countries was 18.4. But those who originated in a cold climate (Nordic or Central Asian) averaged at 17.2, while those originating in a warm climate averaged at 20.0, with intermediary countries averaging at 17.9.

Extraversion scores by country and climatic origin.

Extraversion scores by country and climatic origin.

I’m probably not the first person to have this idea but since Kanazawa insists that it’s a mystery and this seems to be a plausible explanation, I thought I should share it.


The Conservative Face of the Changing Demographics in America

February 7, 2013
How will future Democratic politicians cater to this growing demographic?

How will future Democratic politicians cater to this growing demographic?

When Obama was re-elected a lot of people commented on the fact that this was due to the changing demographics of the US. Conservatives did so in a bitter and resentful way, like Bill O’Reilly who said that “white establishment is no the minority” and that those supporting Obama do so to get hand outs. On the liberal side comments were more derogatory, like Bill Maher’s, “White people vote for white people like it’s going out of style /…/ And like most things white people do, it’s going out of style.”

Clearly, the Democratic party looks poised to rule for a long period of time, given that the Hispanic part of the population is just going to increase in the future. But should liberals be all that happy about this? Hispanics may vote for the Dems, but they are much more socially conservative than the White Democratic voters.  And this could mean troubles ahead for social liberals.

While the leftist think tank Think Progress justify their headline, “The Emerging Pro-choice Majority” with a single exit poll, the larger and nonpartisan sources tell a different story. According to Gallup the trend is clear: back in 1995 those who identified as pro-choice were 56 percent while the pro-lifers were a mere 33 percent. In 2012 the tables had turned with pro-lifers at 50 percent and pro-choice at 41 percent. Under this period Hispanics increased from 10 to 17 percent of the population. Another survey from the Public Religion Research Institute showed that Hispanics are distinctly more against abortion than the rest of the population with 79 percent viewing it as morally wrong. The same number for all Americans, according to Gallup is 51 percent.

No doubt this isn’t the only issue on which the predominantly Catholic Hispanics are more conservative than the average White liberal. And yet the political leftists are enthused by the changing demographics, mocking backward-minded White conservatives for their fear of change. I wonder how long they can stay in that bubble before reality kicks in. Because politicians will inevitably start fighting over the Hispanic vote and find that a socially conservative agenda will serve them well in that regard. When Democratic candidates openly begin to declare themselves pro-life, White liberals may succumb to the well-known White resentment and ask for their country back. But then it will be too late.


What Everybody Missed About the AP Poll: Democrats Have More Implicit Nonblack Racists Than the Republicans

October 29, 2012

You can’t argue with this girl. Seriously, you can’t.

That’s right. This poll reported that 64 percent of all Republicans and 55 percent of all Democrats show implicit racism against Blacks. But racism is practically without exception directed at other groups rather than towards people of the same group. I haven’t found any exact number on this but it’s unlikely to be more than one percent of such self-haters.  At least  I don’t think anyone would disagree if I say that an estimate of 5 percent black self-haters is an overestimate. But let’s be generous and go with that.

So we know that 64 percent of the Republicans are implicitly prejudiced against Blacks. And assuming that 5 percent of GOP’s 2 percent black voters are self-haters they would make up 0.1 percent, leaving us with 63.9 nonblack racists out of 98 nonblack Republicans – which makes 65.2 percent of nonblack Republicans. Now we look at the 55 percent of Democrat racists. Of these 0.95 percent are black self-haters, leaving us with 54.05 nonblack racists out of 81 nonblack Democrats – which makes 66.7 percent nonblack racists among Democrats.  Slightly more than for the Republicans. And again, that’s assuming 5 percent of all Blacks are self-hating racists.

No, my point is not that Democrats are more racist. I just made this little exercise to show how people interpret data to fit their preconceived notions. My suspicion is that this poll doesn’t even measure racism – how do you measure something without even defining it? But I’m sure there is a lot of tribalism, that people like their own and dislike others, and some of that is in the form of racism. That, however, is a universal trait and nothing that is exclusive to white conservatives. As you might be led to believe judging by the reactions this poll has generated.


72 Is Not Going to Be the New 30 for Honey Boo Boo – A Few Thoughts on National Character, Health, and Longevity

October 22, 2012

30 might just feel little bit like 72 for this girl…

Under the headline “Modern humans found to be fittest ever at survival, by far” Los Angeles Times recently featured an article about a study from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, on the increase in life expectancy,

A typical Swede, for instance, is more than 100 times more likely to survive to the age 15 than a typical hunter-gatherer. And a hunter-gatherer who has reached the ripe old age of 30 is about as likely to die in the following year as the world’s champion of longevity — a 72-year-old woman in Japan.

But are Swedes and the Japanese really representative of all modern humans, or even of populations in the developed countries? I think it’s safe to say that these two people are known to have certain traits, national characters, that set them apart. Hardly anyone would argue with the claim that they are less impulsive than the average.

Research on national characters – the specific collective personality traits that distinguish on nationality from another – has proven difficult. A large study by Terracciano back in 2005 found that the national characters don’t accord with mean levels of personality traits. So is this idea just in our heads, that say the Chinese are more introverted than Americans?

Most likely not, since all research into stereotypes so far tends to find a kernel of truth in them – Jews as a group make more money, African Americans as a group are more violent etc. But personality research is almost exclusively done with self-report questionnaires. When people answer question about their own personality they relate it to other people in their own country. This means that differences between countries can be due to other factors like how socially desirable a trait is in that country or how prone a certain people are to self-enhancement, portraying themselves as better than they are. Studies have found that East Asians are not as prone to this as Westerners which could explain why Americans for instance measure higher than the Japanese on conscientiousness.

Some psychologists have tried to get around this problem by looking at how personality traits are expressed in different cultures, or to use ethos in the form of institutions that embody ideals that are typical of certain traits. But that’s all very problematic since it involves measuring the same thing in different and indirect ways.

A better way to do this (which at least I haven’t read about) is to measure actual behavior related to personality traits. Because there are traits that have universal behavioral outcomes.  Take impulsivity for instance. This trait predicts drug abuse, violent crime, traffic accidents etc in all parts of the developed world.  So if these outcomes differ according to stereotypical notions of national characters then we have some evidence that these do reflect actual personality differences between nations.

Since I haven’t come across any such research I decided to dabble a little myself, just to see if there might be anything to this. I took two measures – adult lifetime use of cannabis, and road fatalities – and combined them into a composite measure of impulsivity. The countries included are mainly those commonly thought of as impulsive, New Zealand, USA, Australia, and Denmark. I contrasted these against the two nationalities mentioned in the article, those of Sweden and Japan. So here is what I found.

Adult lifetime use of cannabis according to Wikipedia/EMCDDA: Stereotypically impulsive nations like USA 42.4 percent, New Zealand 41.9 percent , Denmark 36.5 percent, and Australia 33.5 percent. As a contrast Sweden has 12 percent and Japan a mere 1.5 percent.

Road fatalities per 100K inhabitants and year according to Wikipedia/WHO: Again looking at the stereotypically impulsive nations we have, Australia 5.7, New Zealand 8.6, USA  12.3,  Denmark 7.4,  whereas Sweden has 2.9 and Japan 3.85.

If we combine these percentages to a composite measure of impulsivity by adjusting so both measures have the same average, we find the following order with life expectancy in the second column,

USA                       50           78.2

Australia               56           81.2

New Zealand        77           80.2

Denmark               67           78.3

Sweden                 24           80.9

Japan                    17           82.7

This gives us a clear indication that nations thought of as impulsive actually have more outcomes that are known to correlate with impulsivity on the individual level. Their average level is 62.5, which is 3 times the average of Japan and Sweden combined. It’s especially striking to see the big difference between the neighbors  Denmark and Sweden that are very similar in many other ways.  And this measure of impulsivity also correlates  -0.6 to life expectancy which is quite respectable.

…but not for this one.

Although it’s not a scientific study, I believe this little exercise clearly raises the question of whether any developed country can be taken as a measure of how technological progress translates to longer life expectancies in general. It suggest that this is not the case, and that differences in personality traits between countries, often referred to as national characters are in fact real, and affect health and longevity in the same way as they do on the individual level.


%d bloggers like this: