We'd all like to believe that the people who disagree with us are stupid, right? Maybe it's not just that they're wrong, but that they aren't very bright in the first place.
So here comes a study which claims that low-intelligence is correlated not just with prejudice, but also with socially conservative beliefs. From LiveScience:
There's no gentle way to put it: People who give in to racism and prejudice may simply be dumb, according to a new study that is bound to stir public controversy.
The research finds that children with low intelligence are more likely to hold prejudiced attitudes as adults. These findings point to a vicious cycle, according to lead researcher Gordon Hodson, a psychologist at Brock University in Ontario. Low-intelligence adults tend to gravitate toward socially conservative ideologies, the study found. Those ideologies, in turn, stress hierarchy and resistance to change, attitudes that can contribute to prejudice, Hodson wrote in an email to LiveScience. ...
"They've pulled off the trifecta of controversial topics," said Brian Nosek, a social and cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia who was not involved in the study. "When one selects intelligence, political ideology and racism and looks at any of the relationships between those three variables, it's bound to upset somebody."
Polling data and social and political science research do show that prejudice is more common in those who hold right-wing ideals that those of other political persuasions, Nosek told LiveScience.
"The unique contribution here is trying to make some progress on the most challenging aspect of this," Nosek said, referring to the new study. "It's not that a relationship like that exists, but why it exists."
Earlier studies have found links between low levels of education and higher levels of prejudice, Hodson said, so studying intelligence seemed a logical next step.
As Hodson himself pointed out, this doesn't mean that all conservatives are stupid and all liberals are brilliant, nor even that all conservatives are racist and all liberals racially tolerant. These are averages. But still, it sounds like just what I want to hear.
So maybe I should remember that I'm supposed to be a skeptic, huh? What would I say about this if it wasn't what I wanted to hear?
Obviously, the biggest problem is that this is just one study. It's not the scientific consensus, and it may never be. As far as I can tell, their findings haven't even been confirmed by independent researchers, not yet. So, at the very least, it's too early to give this much credence.
I'm also skeptical about "intelligence" as a single, overall measure. What was it that was really being measured - problem-solving, memory, vocabulary? And note that most of this research was conducted in Great Britain, so certain factors could possibly be specific to the United Kingdom.
Finally, it's just correlation, not causation. In other words, this research didn't necessarily find that low intelligence causes people to lean right. Instead, assuming this research is correct, low intelligence and conservative ideology could be linked in another way (something else causing both, for example - see below).
If you're a liberal like me, this study might make perfect sense to you,... but then, it would, wouldn't it? :)
As suspected, low intelligence in childhood corresponded with racism in adulthood. But the factor that explained the relationship between these two variables was political: When researchers included social conservatism in the analysis, those ideologies accounted for much of the link between brains and bias.
People with lower cognitive abilities also had less contact with people of other races.
"This finding is consistent with recent research demonstrating that intergroup contact is mentally challenging and cognitively draining, and consistent with findings that contact reduces prejudice," said Hodson, who along with his colleagues published these results online Jan. 5 in the journal Psychological Science.
Hodson was quick to note that the despite the link found between low intelligence and social conservatism, the researchers aren't implying that all liberals are brilliant and all conservatives stupid. The research is a study of averages over large groups, he said. ...
Nonetheless, there is reason to believe that strict right-wing ideology might appeal to those who have trouble grasping the complexity of the world.
"Socially conservative ideologies tend to offer structure and order," Hodson said, explaining why these beliefs might draw those with low intelligence. "Unfortunately, many of these features can also contribute to prejudice."
In another study, this one in the United States, Hodson and Busseri compared 254 people with the same amount of education but different levels of ability in abstract reasoning. They found that what applies to racism may also apply to homophobia. People who were poorer at abstract reasoning were more likely to exhibit prejudice against gays. As in the U.K. citizens, a lack of contact with gays and more acceptance of right-wing authoritarianism explained the link.
I've already explained why I'll be reserving judgment here. Other than that, I'll let conservatives fight their own battles. I'm sure they'll be eager to do so. :)
Right now, I want to go in a little different direction, myself. Note this quote: "This finding is consistent with recent research demonstrating that intergroup contact is mentally challenging and cognitively draining." Assuming that this research is accurate, could it be that the causation is actually the other way around, that conservatism and prejudice cause low intelligence?
I was struck by a recent remark by Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum:
Rick Santorum's crusade against higher education continues. The presidential hopeful explained Wednesday that President Obama doesn't want all Americans to go to college simply because he's a snob. It's also because he wants them to be pushed into liberalism. Because that's what American colleges and universities do. "It's no wonder President Obama wants every kid to go to college," he said while campaigning in Florida. "The indoctrination that occurs in American universities is one of the keys to the left holding and maintaining power in America. And it is indoctrination. If it was the other way around, the ACLU would be out there making sure there wasn't one penny of government dollars going to colleges and universities, right?"
This seems to be pretty typical of the right-wing, at least in America. Conservatives are often terrified of the "indoctrination" that threatens their children, meaning that they might encounter someone who thinks differently than their parents do.
They can go to great lengths to keep their children isolated. They may home-school, or send their kids to private religious schools. They'll socialize within the church. They want their children to hear nothing which might cause any doubts.
Often, their kids grow up among people just like them - the same race, the same socioeconomic background, the same religion. And as I say, much of that is deliberate. Their parents are scared to death that their child might start to think for himself. Heck, among the more cult-like religions, this voluntary segregation extends to the adults, too.
It's a scary world out there. The Devil is everywhere - some Christians think so, literally - and you mustn't listen to him. As Rick Warren says, "Don't ever argue with the Devil. He's better at arguing than you are, having had thousands of years to practice." Think about that message. Don't even try to think about what you believe. Certainly don't try to defend your thinking. That's just Satan's trap!
But if you never use your brain, except for rote memorization, how is that going to affect your intelligence? If you aren't challenged by people who think differently, you don't get to exercise your thinking skills.
Liberals tend to be more open to diversity, and their kids aren't as sheltered from diverse opinions. Their children still tend to believe what their parents believe, but at least they have to think about why.
Frankly, I'm often astonished at some of the crazy things conservatives believe. Frequently, when they argue about evolution or religion, they don't seem to know the first thing about the subject. I keep thinking that they must have led very sheltered lives, and I just don't think that makes for a healthy brain.
Rick Santorum is a good example, I think. Right-wingers like him are just terrified of universities, where their kids might finally get to hear diverse views. They call it "indoctrination," but isn't it easy to inoculate a kid against indoctrination? Just let them experience diverse views right from the start, so they're not completely unprepared for such things. And maybe that will encourage them to think, increasing their intelligence a bit, too.
Well, I don't know if prejudice and social conservatism cause stupidity, or if it's just the other way around. Heh, heh. Yeah, as I said above, I don't even acknowledge the correlation of low intelligence, prejudice, and conservative ideology, not yet. It might be true, but so far, it hasn't been conclusively demonstrated. This is just one study, not the scientific consensus. Not yet, at least.
But it's something to think about, isn't it? It's good for our brains to be challenged. When you have to think for yourself, it can't help but strengthen the little gray cells. It can't hurt, anyway, can it?
But if your beliefs are foolish, if they can't hold up in the free marketplace of ideas, thinking about them risks the danger that you might see how foolish they are. Well, that's the danger many on the right fear, though they may not put it exactly that way.