Liberalism, atheism, male sexual exclusivity linked to IQ
By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
(CNN) -- Political, religious and sexual behaviors may be reflections of intelligence, a new study finds.
Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa at the the London School of Economics and Political Science correlated data on these behaviors with IQ from a large national U.S. sample and found that, on average, people who identified as liberal and atheist had higher IQs. This applied also to sexual exclusivity in men, but not in women. The findings will be published in the March 2010 issue of Social Psychology Quarterly.
The IQ differences, while statistically significant, are not stunning -- on the order of 6 to 11 points -- and the data should not be used to stereotype or make assumptions about people, experts say. But they show how certain patterns of identifying with particular ideologies develop, and how some people's behaviors come to be.
The reasoning is that sexual exclusivity in men, liberalism and atheism all go against what would be expected given humans' evolutionary past. In other words, none of these traits would have benefited our early human ancestors, but higher intelligence may be associated with them.
"The adoption of some evolutionarily novel ideas makes some sense in terms of moving the species forward," said George Washington University leadership professor James Bailey, who was not involved in the study. "It also makes perfect sense that more intelligent people -- people with, sort of, more intellectual firepower -- are likely to be the ones to do that."
Bailey also said that these preferences may stem from a desire to show superiority or elitism, which also has to do with IQ. In fact, aligning oneself with "unconventional" philosophies such as liberalism or atheism may be "ways to communicate to everyone that you're pretty smart," he said.
The study looked at a large sample from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), which began with adolescents in grades 7-12 in the United States during the 1994-95 school year. The participants were interviewed as 18- to 28-year-olds from 2001 to 2002. The study also looked at the General Social Survey, another cross-national data collection source.
Kanazawa did not find that higher or lower intelligence predicted sexual exclusivity in women. This makes sense, because having one partner has always been advantageous to women, even thousands of years ago, meaning exclusivity is not a "new" preference.
For men, on the other hand, sexual exclusivity goes against the grain evolutionarily. With a goal of spreading genes, early men had multiple mates. Since women had to spend nine months being pregnant, and additional years caring for very young children, it made sense for them to want a steady mate to provide them resources.
Religion, the current theory goes, did not help people survive or reproduce necessarily, but goes along the lines of helping people to be paranoid, Kanazawa said. Assuming that, for example, a noise in the distance is a signal of a threat helped early humans to prepare in case of danger.
"It helps life to be paranoid, and because humans are paranoid, they become more religious, and they see the hands of God everywhere," Kanazawa said.
Participants who said they were atheists had an average IQ of 103 in adolescence, while adults who said they were religious averaged 97, the study found. Atheism "allows someone to move forward and speculate on life without any concern for the dogmatic structure of a religion," Bailey said.
"Historically, anything that's new and different can be seen as a threat in terms of the religious beliefs; almost all religious systems are about permanence," he noted.
The study takes the American view of liberal vs. conservative. It defines "liberal" in terms of concern for genetically nonrelated people and support for private resources that help those people. It does not look at other factors that play into American political beliefs, such as abortion, gun control and gay rights.
"Liberals are more likely to be concerned about total strangers; conservatives are likely to be concerned with people they associate with," he said.
Given that human ancestors had a keen interest in the survival of their offspring and nearest kin, the conservative approach -- looking out for the people around you first -- fits with the evolutionary picture more than liberalism, Kanazawa said. "It's unnatural for humans to be concerned about total strangers." he said.
The study found that young adults who said they were "very conservative" had an average adolescent IQ of 95, whereas those who said they were "very liberal" averaged 106.
It also makes sense that "conservatism" as a worldview of keeping things stable would be a safer approach than venturing toward the unfamiliar, Bailey said.
Neither Bailey nor Kanazawa identify themselves as liberal; Bailey is conservative and Kanazawa is "a strong libertarian."
Vegetarianism, while not strongly associated with IQ in this study, has been shown to be related to intelligence in previous research, Kanazawa said. This also fits into Bailey's idea that unconventional preferences appeal to people with higher intelligence, and can also be a means of showing superiority.
None of this means that the human species is evolving toward a future where these traits are the default, Kanazawa said.
"More intelligent people don't have more children, so moving away from the trajectory is not going to happen," he said.
First, the IQ differences are not that great between the most religious and non-religious in the study. I do not see how 97 and 103 should be considered a "statistically significant" differential, but for the large sample size. To me, 6 points does not denote a real sizable gap as much as, say, 20-30 points. It appears that the researchers are using statistical significance as an appeal to authority when in actuality the variance is not that great.
Second, since when was IQ a proper measurement of intelligence? It measures a type of intelligence or ability to master analysis to be exact, but I have never bought into the myth that the IQ test, unless one has an outlier score above 140-150 (or whatever constitutes a 'genius'), has much to contribute, not the least for people whose average scores are in the 90s and low 100s.
Third, there are some serious flaws and externalities in the validity of some of these variables. Yes, the researchers attempted to control for differences in post-secondary education by looking at their adolescent IQ scores in adult years (when the interviews were conducted), but it could be those adolescent IQ scores were already producing students preparing for college. That 7-12 grader with the higher IQ could well have been taking college prep classes. If previous studies are true, people who go to college are much more likely to self-identify as being liberal or a non-believer in religion. It could be that being a liberal non-believer is a corollary of having a college degree or being a product of those secondary education courses that prepared them for university. Indeed, going to college (as opposed to being liberal or an atheist) may well be the factor that most heavily weighs on intelligent peoples' proclivities to "show that they are smart."
And as a side note to the researchers, if by some accident of Baal they are reading this, I take issue with the notion that it is "unnatural for humans to be concerned about total strangers" (the suspiciousness of which is compounded by the admission of both researchers that they are believers in ideologies most likely to produce indifferent views to the suffering of non-corporate/non-fetal humans [researchers whose own ideologies predilections purport that not paying an income tax or having anything like a social safety net for people who die from a lack of health insurance are equated, by them, as perfectly "natural"]). Since when was an attitude deemed 'unnatural'? I am assuming that the researcher meant to say outside of the norm. And even if he meant that it is unnatural to care about others, how can one rationalize the universal, historical development (by humans) of non-familial communities and communitarian concepts like religion, nation-states, and political ideologies (some even predicated in part on helping others)? If one looks at the creation of most every ancient religion, from East to West, helping others, the poor, or those in need, have always been a feature of those belief systems (even if it was a ploy to gain converts).
This is a coding problem, as much as anything else, since the researchers have decided to posit the liberal v. conservative dichotomy based on arbitrary definitions that could have multiple ideological meanings (there are many conservatives who oppose abortion on the grounds of 'wanting to help others', and liberals who support a welfare state to create a sense of stability in the polity and even in the family). That they excluded attitudes on abortion, gay rights, health care, etc., is pretty damning, seeing how those are major issues for conservatives and liberals, which gets to the greatest limitation of the study. Attitudes for some can change and our politics, especially, are much more influenced by our parentage than schooling, most notably in our youth. Over 80% of young adults vote the way their parents/guardians vote. And when it comes to religion, almost all children and young adults are religious outcomes of their family. A third of all Catholics in this country no longer self-identifies as Catholic. Over a third of the electorate refuses to identify as a member of a party and a majority do not subscribe to being either liberal or conservative (or were once liberals and conservatives and switched later on). By not asking what the student's outlook was back in 11th grade, who is to say it will be the same by the time he/she is in the experimental phase of college?
Lastly, while it is nice to say that I am more intelligent than the average conservative, intelligence is now always an adjunct of ideology, as much as some would like to think. Even if this study is statistically true, and all of my concerns overstated, the significance of the differences are not that large. One can be intelligently wrong, since ideology is typically a subjective judgment to begin with (and one subject to change over time and often does so without variation in intelligence). Over the years, I have met in academic people I would consider highly intelligent and yet no less deluded than the average priest or teabagger in Nashville.
Still, there is one part of that study that I do agree with. Without carnality, I have more time to read and study than my fellow males who prefer going through alphabets of partners (reminding me of that Seinfeld episode when George picked up Portuguese after he stopped having sex). It works, until you cave in of course, which we must all do, or risk ending up like the priests.