A Little Speculation About Disgust Sensitivity and Attitudes Towards Homosexuals and People of Other Races

November 18, 2013

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What Is Disgust?

Disgust is an emotion and a corresponding aversive reaction that serves to protect us from disease and contamination. A clear indication of this is that we are the most disgusted by things and situations that may lead to contamination – infected wounds, feces, blood, rotten food (or rotten anything), people with bad hygiene, mice, fleas or other animals know to spread disease.

Since disgust has such an obvious function and is found in every known culture, as well as being expressed in exactly the same way in around the world, we have every reason to believe that it is an evolutionary trait. And as psychologist Jonathan Haidt and many before him have pointed out, disgust has likely evolved from a simple reaction to pathogens into a foundation for moral judgments – the filthy person isn’t just somebody who needs a shower. This wider range of disgust is shown in the additional dimensions of sexual and moral disgust in which the reaction isn’t primarily a protection against contamination but against other dangers having to do with survival and reproduction.

Correlates to Personality

In other words, disgust seems to be a wide personality trait, and like any other such trait it shows a great deal of individual variation. Research has found disgust to be linked to Neuroticism with a correlation around 0.45, which makes sense since it is an emotional reaction. Other than that it shows pretty modest correlations of around 0.3 to HEXACO Honesty-Humility. So there is a case for viewing disgust sensitivity as a fundamental personality factor along with Haidt’s other moral foundations. Which I suspect would be a great substitute for the Big Five, but that’s another story.

Correlates to Social Attitudes.

Psychologists theorize that disgust should be directed at strangers more than familiar people. This would be due to the fact that humans have lived in small groups that were likely to share diseases, pathogens and immunities. But members of outgroups could easily introduce completely new pathogens that the group had no protection against. If this is true, then people who score high on disgust sensitivity should also have a more negative attitude towards various outgroups. Research has shown this to be true: people who are easily disgusted have more negative attitudes towards for instance foreigners, disabled people and homosexuals. Disgust sensitivity has also been linked to various measures of political and religious conservatism. One study by psychologist John Terrizzi and colleagues at the Virginia Commonwealth University showed correlations in the range of 0.33-0.49 whereas measures of conservatism unrelated to the idea of contamination, like minimum wage and health care, showed negligible correlations.  At the same time, inducing disgust has also been shown to increase ingroup favouritism and outgroup hostility which suggests that a lot more than those who are easily disgusted can become hostile towards outgroups under circumstances that promote disgust, such as an epidemic. Studies have also found a seemingly curious effect in that liberals have less prejudice against foreigners and homosexuals when being primed with disgust before their judgments. But as X points out, this is most likely because they view these categories of people as part of their ingroup. So they essentially show the same pattern as conservatives. How they react to their own outgroups has yet to be examined.

The Effect of the Climate

If we take the example of a negative attitude towards homosexuals, hobby-psychiatrically referred to as homophobia, the most common theories on the origin of this attitude are about being gay and repressing it with anger or being scared of others thinking you’re gay and demonstratively objecting to it in order to divert suspicions. It’s very easy to see how these theories are problematic. If being gay would explain even half of the cases of homophobia it would mean that roughly half of the population in many countries in the Arab world must be gay. It would also mean that the number of gay people in for instance Eastern Europe must have increased dramatically for the change in attitude seen there in recent years to make sense. If it was about fear then why are there substantial minorities of homophobes in the most liberal countries like Canada or Holland, where no one gives a damn if you’re gay or not?

Clearly the case for disgust sensitivity appears much stronger. This could also provide an explanation for why some countries are more homophobic than others. If we look at maps of the prevalence of infectious diseases it seems clear that the most cases are found in Africa, the northern half of South America, the southern part of Central America, South- and South East Asia. In these countries there is a high population density that enables disease to spread more easily. It’s also warm, so vector organism can multiply more and aren’t forced to hibernate during winter. Here is a WHO map of combined infectious diseases,

Infectious diseases

Compare this to the PEW map of negative attitudes towards homosexuals,

PEW homosexuality

Or, for that matter, the World Value Survey map of racism,

racism

Sure, it’s no doubt more than one cause behind these attitudes. One likely candidate is clannishness/tribalism which is common in the Muslim world. This trait might explain some anomalies like the conspicuous French racism and the relative lack of homophobia in South America, although the difference between the northern and southern half of South America is striking nonetheless. Russia and Eastern Europe is also an anomaly but this can probably be explained at least in part by the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the communist era citizens were provided with free health care but after this system collapsed life expectancy rates have decreased sharply and infectious diseases like tuberculosis, HIV and even malaria have become more common. All in all, it seems pretty likely that some peoples who have originated in a warm climate would be more prone to outgroup hostility, or that the prevalence of infectious diseases could trigger such hostility.

So, Homophobia and Racism Is Ok Then?

Not exactly. Approving of behavior on the grounds that it’s human nature is absurd. Murder and rape is human nature too; it has been present in every known culture. Our attitude towards other people is always going to be at least partly about choice. If we want to fight these negative attitudes then knowledge is preferred to homespun theories. And knowledge, although still shaky, suggests that fighting racism and homophobia may be more about treating infectious diseases and stopping global warming then lecturing school children or having pride parades.

Of course, not all diseases are disgusting,

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The Search for Western Tribalism

June 29, 2013

Readers of this blog know of my interest in tribalism, the tendency to team up in groups that distinguish themselves from and compete with other groups. This trait is both good and bad. It fosters a sense of community and identity and like I’ve said before, it’s probably the most important fabric of any society. But tribalism also comes with ideas of the superiority of the ingroup and hostility towards outgroups creating tension and conflicts within and between societies.

Reading the blogger hbd chick*, I’ve also learned about the similar behavioural trait of clannishness found in clan-based societies, mainly in the Muslim world. I’ve been treating the terms clannishness and tribalism rather synonymously although I now believe they are two related but separate things. And now I’m reading psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind in which he presents his theory of moral foundations, gut feelings on which we base our moral judgments. According to Haidt, one of these foundations is Loyalty/betrayal aka Ingroup, which appears very similar to tribalism. He notes that self-identified conservatives lean more on this foundation than liberals.

So, exactly how do clannishness, tribalism and conservatism relate to one another? Well, I’m basically arguing that clannishness is a more primitive or extreme form of tribalism and that conservatism is a heterogeneous attitude that may or may not incorporate tribalism.

In the Beginning There Was Clannishness

To get a better understanding of the tribal person, especially in America, and probably most other Western countries, we need to go back to the evolutionary roots of this trait. hbd chick* has described how this behavior may have evolved  when people found themselves in situations where trusting strangers was especially risky – like if you for instance were a cattle herder and all your property could be easily stolen. This problem was solved by marrying relatives. This created clans in which everyone was tied by blood to each other. If you needed a job done you could hire a person in your clan and you didn’t have to worry about your cattle being gone the next day. Most people probably have a little of this tendency since we appear to have lived for most of our existence as a species in small groups competing with each other.  But pastoralists and people in similar situations made this their special niche.

This arrangement in clans can only work through inbreeding, and this in turn means that everyone in the clan can pass on their genes more efficiently through relatives than they could if they weren’t inbred. And since all known behavioural traits have been found to be highly inheritable, the tendency to be loyal to relatives and disloyal or hostile to non-relatives – that is to say clannishness – was selected for. This trait then helped to reinforce the tendency to inbreed and a loop was created which increased clannishness until the detrimental effects of inbreeding, low intelligence and various congenital diseases, slowed down the process.

Tribalism as Clannishness Light

Clannishness was probably a dominant feature of most societies up until just a few centuries ago. Then various changes occur that makes it less competitive.  Agriculture outcompetes pastoralism and in the West the Church bans first-cousin marriages etc. So people start outbreeding get smarter and clannishness disappears, except in the Muslim world and other cultures in which these changes never took place. But before that – for almost our entire existence as a species – genes for tribalism must have been selected for. It didn’t matter if you distinguished between relatives or not because the ingroup was always your relatives.  So when inbreeding and clannish life ended we became smarter and a little more open and tolerant since those traits become more important as we compete in new and shifting constellations. But for most of our existence tribalism has been selected for. And it doesn’t vanish when inbreeding stops, which explains why it’s such a prominent trait in today’s world.

Testing the Theory

To test this theory I have looked at state-level differences in intelligence, corruption and outgroup hostility, the last one as a more direct measure of tribalism. Now if tribalism is just clannishness without the inbreeding it should correlate to corruption but not nearly as much to low intelligence since this is mainly due to inbreeding – although tribalism means you submit and conform to the group rather than think for yourself so it should be linked to normal or slightly below normal intelligence. For the same reason there should not be a strong negative correlation between IQ and corruption as seen internationally because there is no clannishness in America. So here goes…

To measure intelligence I used the White IQ scores that the Audacious Epigone constructed based on NAEP scores for 2009. To measure public corruption I took convictions for the period 2001-2010 – this because the State Integrity Index is based on expert ratings on policies rather than actual outcomes and shows weird fluctuations. As a measure of tribalism I used outgroup hostility in the form racially charged Google searches for the words “nigger” and “niggers”, compiled by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a PhD student in economics at Harvard. As he points out this measure may be superior to surveys where people answer in a socially desirable rather than truthful way on sensitive issues. But he also mentions research about how the size of an outgroup influences outgroup hostility. According to this research when the Black part of the population is close to zero then so is hostility; it’s just a non-issue to most people. But when it reaches 20-30 percent you’ll find the most hostility (above that most White people leave with only the most tolerant staying). So since I’m looking for a measure of innate outgroup hostility rather than explicit racism, I decided to omit states with more than 20 percent and less than one percent Black inhabitants. The lower limit may sound too low but Maine with just over one percent Black people is still at 32th spot in racial searches.

I also excluded Hawai since I couldn’t find all the stats for it. This leaves us with 37 states and still plenty of regional variation.

And here are the results…

  • Google racial searches correlated -0.41 with White IQ

A pretty weak correlation when you consider that these search words are very low-brow. This suggests that the correlation to a more accurate measure of outgroup hostility would be even lower since not all racists are stupid and not all outgroup hostility is racist.

  • Public corruption correlated 0.51 with racial Google searches

By the same logic we might argue that this fair-sized correlation could be due to Google searches link to low IQ and the well-known link between IQ and corruption. However…

  • Public corruption correlated -0.05 with White IQ

Now it’s getting interesting. International studies point to a correlation between corruption and intelligence of around -0.7 – and here we have nothing. How can this be? One possible explanation that supports my theory is that the -0.7 found globally is due to clannishness. Since this trait incorporates low IQ, mainly due to inbreeding, we get an incidental link between IQ and corruption. In reality it’s the ingroup favouritism and outgroup hostility that causes corruption. Since there is no inbreeding in America (that I know of) there is no connection between these behaviors and intelligence. But the gene variants behind them don’t go away when you outbreed so people with a clannish history will retain their groupish behavior, their tribalism. That way we would have a substantial link between tribalism and corruption and little or no connection between corruption and intelligence.

Case In Point: Appalachia

As an example of how clannish people may have transformed into tribals, let’s look at the Appalachian region. This area is where the Ulster Scots people settled, originally noted for their many clan feuds and rumoured to be inbred (although it’s hard to find any research on this). The top 3 states with highest rate of racial searches are Appalachian, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky,  and 6 in the top 10 are Appalachian states – and there are only 7 Appalachian states in this sample. In fourth spot is Michigan which was a major destination for migrants from Appalachia looking for work in Detroit after the coal mines stopped hiring. According to Wikipedia it seems like they maintained their tribalism in this metropolitan environment,

“Once they migrated to Michigan, they were lumped together as southern white laborers, and a group consciousness based on that label emerged. Migrants from all over Appalachia began to feel a social solidarity with each other, preferring to work and live beside other Southerners than with Northerners. It was believed that the Appalachian migrants assimilated less rapidly than Northern rural migrants because of their group consciousness and the persistence of certain southern regional attitudes, and an acute awareness of the difference between themselves and other native-born white Americans.”

(The other states in the top 10 – that seem to be completely unrelated to Appalachia – are New Jersey, Rhode Island and Florida.)

And as expected the region has more corruption than the average – 6.7 convictions per 10K public employees compared to the overall average 4.2. That’s roughly 60 percent higher.

Also as expected Appalachians are of normal intelligence. It’s true that West Virginia has the lowest estimate of all states at 96.8 but this is similar to many well developed countries in Europe, and the Appalachian average is 99.8 compared to the overall average 100.7, a difference of less than one point. (I excluded New York, which had 102, but with only 5.7 percent of its population in this region.)

So it seems that this region that was by all accounts the most clannish in the 1700s and 1800s is today, without any reasonable chance of widespread inbreeding, instead the most tribal. And the most melodious…

And Conservatism?

Finally, I used the difference between the percent identifying as conservative and liberal in a state, the so-called conservative advantage, from Gallup as a measure of conservatism. This measure correlated 0.05 with racially charged Google searches, slightly higher, 0.17 with corruption and negatively with intelligence, -0.32. This clearly doesn’t fit the tribal profile. It may just be an average of different conservative subtypes. As Haidt’s research shows, liberals rely on two moral foundations, Harm and Fairness, whereas conservatives rely more or less equally on all foundations. This leaves room for more variation.

Summing Up

So, what do these correlations tell us? They support the theory that clannishness is the mother of tribalism. Clan-based societies amassed gene variants contributing to ingroup bias and outgroup hostility. Inbreeding caused low intelligence. As inbreeding was banned in the West the intelligence went up but the gene variants behind the general tribalism are still with us and is very clear among peoples or ethnic groups with a clannish history. Furthermore, tribalism is not a defining characteristic of conservatism since people who identify as conservative don’t fit the tribal profile very well; it could perhaps be regarded as a subtype.

 


Darius, Bitches!

May 24, 2013

Recently, Black Country singer Darius Rucker was told by someone on twitter to “leave country to the white folk.” Is country music White and if so should it be?

Some who have commented on this affair, or whatever it is, seem to think that any connection between music genres and race/ethnicity is just coincidental,

“Music is color blind. It should have no boundaries. It’s supposed to unify us, not divide us as a nation.”

“Music has no color.”

This seems a bit phony to me. It’s obvious that Country music is White music. It’s as White as R&B is Black. Pretending otherwise is like denying that Asians are more conscientious than other groups or denying that White people engage more in airy fairy philosophy than others. As far as evidence goes, I haven’t found any specific studies on race and musical preferences although I’ve mentioned one study that links race/ethnicity to more general cultural preferences, as well as personality.

Does this mean that Rucker should leave Country to White people? No. He is of course free to do whatever he wants. It’s undoubtedly embarrassing when White people try to act Black and vice versa, but besides group differences there are also individual differences. Some individuals simply won’t conform to their group preferences. And there is no reason why their contributions should count as less or that they be branded as phonies because of that.

So yes, music has color. We are different. But no, that doesn’t mean that you always have to stick to your racial, ethnic or religious group in everything you do. There is absolutely no contradiction between the fact that Country music is White and the fact that Darius Rucker is a Black and talented Country singer. If you haven’t heard him just listen to the clip above – he is more Country than Taylor Swift will ever be.

 

 


The Personality of Tribalism

March 18, 2013
"My team is better than yours."

“My team is better than yours.”

Ingroups and Outgroups

A fundamental aspect of human behaviour is our tendency to team up in groups and distinguish ourselves from other groups. Some of the more common groups are based on ethnic, racial, religious, political and socio-economic criteria. But even a preference for a certain soccer team or a brand of computers can become the basis of a tribe or a group.

Social groups share some basic characteristics. They view their own group, called the ingroup, as superior to the other groups, called outgroups. They conform to their groups norms, and, perhaps most problematic, they favour their ingroups while being hostile to outgroups. In this post I will simply refer to the tendency to join groups and behave in this way as tribalism.

Tribalism as a Heritable Personality Trait

So, what does this have to do with personality? Well, it turns out that there is an individual variation in the tendency to identify with groups. Some people are more eager to band together than others. Like other personality traits, group identity has a substantial heritability. One relatively recent study by psychologist Christopher Weber and colleagues (2011) asked 691 pair of twins three questions about their racial, ethnic and religious ingroups – how much they identify with their group, how much they prefer it to other groups and how important it is to marry within the group. These measures typically ranged between 40 to 60 percent in heritability, with a notable exception of the importance of marrying someone in the same ethnic group which had a heritability of 0 to 8 percent depending on which model was adopted. This is perhaps due to the fact that these samples tend to be of White people so a lot of the variance in ethnicity may be between Irish, English, German etc.

While these heritabilities were substantial, they leave plenty of room for environmental influence. But the case for a societal or cultural influence is quite weak. This falls under the shared environment which was negligible for all but the religious measure where it varied between 0-22 percent which isn’t much to brag about either. The exception here is again ethnic marriage which had a shared environmental factor of 31-37 percent depending on model. So overall, family, local community, culture, schools, etc, had little or no influence on how tribal the participants turned out.

Relations to Other Personality Traits

Looking at the Big Five model, Weber and his colleagues found little genetic links between Big Five traits and the measures discussed above. And in general the links between ingroup bias (the preference for your own group, a central feature of tribalism) and personality are mixed. There are measures for political attitudes like Right-Wing Authoritarianism and Social Dominance Orientation that tap into the ingroup bias, but they are much more narrow traits/attitudes that measure political attitudes as well. But there is one measure that seems to relate directly to tribalism and that is Identification With All of Humanity (IWAH). This measure asks questions about how strongly people identify with all humans as well as with the nation and local community. It would seem like a good measure of the opposite of tribalism. One study by Sam MacFarland and colleagues (2012) found the measure IWAH to correlate somewhat with Openness 0.36, Agreeableness 0.24 and Neuroticism 0.20. Of these correlations the one to Openness seems quite respectable, but there are reasons to view it with some skepticism. Why?

The Liberal Tribe

For political reasons. The person who claims to identify with all of humanity is usually found at the liberal/left side of the political spectrum and Openness correlates strongly with liberalism. These people do not identify strongly with the traditional groups like race, ethnicity, nation etc, they form ingroups based on their political views instead. I haven’t found any actual research to confirm this, probably because the overwhelming majority of psychologists identify as liberals, but there is a very revealing study by psychologists Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammers (2012) that surveyed 800 psychologists, 94 percent of whom identified as liberal. When they asked these psychologists whether they would discriminate against a colleague if they knew it was a conservative, a staggering amount of them admitted that they would, the percentage varied between 14 percent on inviting a conservative to a symposium to 38 percent on hiring a conservative. Furthermore, the study showed that the stronger a psychologist identified as liberal, the more likely he or she would discriminate. And these people typically score very high on Openness, which is a self-rate measure, but their tribalism is pretty obvious. Here is a funny example of this from The Daily Show which, rather bravely, challenges its own viewers,

A Brand New Trait

Given this, I think it’s reasonable to view tribalism as new personality trait. It doesn’t correlate strongly to any of the Big Five and there is no obvious reason to believe that it would be interchangeable with any traits outside this model , such as Honesty/humility, Sensation Seeking or “dark” traits like Narcissism or Psychopathy either. Like other personality traits, it’s highly inheritable and is not influenced much by upbringing, culture or other shared environmental factors. And although it’s most definitely seems more common among conservatives, it can easily be found among liberals too, so it’s not just a political attitude. So by all accounts this is a new trait that needs to be conceptualized, measured and researched.

Big Deal?

The importance of this trait can hardly be overstated. The mere fact that it relates to who you will consider marrying is a good example of how deeply it influences people. The idea of the ingroup as superior to others and the hostility towards other groups is also something that will translate to prejudice, discrimination and violence directed at the “inferior” groups. Clearly this trait predicts a lot of life outcomes.

This is not to say that all the outcomes stemming from a high degree of tribalism are bad. This trait also fosters a sense of solidarity, loyalty and trust among members of the group. I would go so far as to say that tribalism is the main fabric of society. The person scoring very low on this trait is someone who doesn’t belong anywhere. He or she is likely to be a naïve (and yes, often liberal) person who loves everyone and assumes that the feeling is mutual.  So we need this trait. Like all other traits it serves a purpose. Otherwise will end up like this,

Hopefully some psychologist for whom truth means more than politics will take an unbiased look at what can only be described as very fundamental and overlooked aspect of human personality. Any takers?


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.


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