Political Ideology and Intelligence

A controversial study was released today that claims low intelligence correlates with social conservatism and, further, to racist tendencies.

I should state right away that I don’t think these studies provide any benefit in terms of solving our discourse issues. It does no good to tell someone that they’re stupid, and that’s why you disagree with them.

However, from a scientific standpoint, it’s an interesting study. Naturally one has to be careful not to fall victim to post hoc fallacies; this study just found a correlation it didn’t determine a causation. But I do think that it’s reasonable to, at the very least, speculate that a causal link exists between decreased cognitive thinking abilities and belief in a simple/structured political ideology that doesn’t require any upheaval in ‘the way things are.’

What if Pinocchio said "my nose will grow?"

This is atypically non-rigorous of me, but I’ve always had this notion in my mind that emotion played a large part in IQ tests. For example, if you were a person that was emotionally invested in using intuition rather than analysis and critical thinking, then that would cause your cognitive abilities to appear lower than they are simply because you’re not engaging them, if that makes sense.

(Ok so, I couldn’t allow myself to write that last paragraph without at least researching a bit after the fact, and it appears my “intuition” was correct according to this Harvard Study related to religious beliefs and IQ. According to wiki: “The study controlled for personality differences and cognitive ability, suggesting the difference is in fact thinking styles – not simply IQ.”)

It makes a bit of sense to me that those beholden to their intuition are also attracted to world views that are objectively more simplistic (I make no claims about their appropriateness — only their complexity). How does the economy work? Intuition says that if Job Creators™ are taxed less then they have more money to hire people. Easy. Well, actually data shows that the correlation between high income marginal tax rate and …. TOO MUCH INFORMATION. Is it acceptable for gay couples to adopt children? Intuition for most people says that heterosexual parents are the best at raising children, and the book that they unquestionably, intuitively believe in says something about abominations (and shellfish). Well, actually data shows that the rate of child abuse amongst homosexual couples is nearly zero and that there are tons of children in foster…. TOO MUCH INFORMATION.

I wrote a previous column regarding the non-intuitive nature in which a local policy can have a major global impact. It takes a ton of analysis and critical thinking to get there, and if you were unwilling to engage that part of your brain you’d still think that more stringent local noise regulations in San Diego don’t have a freaking thing to do with CO2 emissions in Germany. In the end of that column I wondered what other systems are impacted by non-intuitive reactions. I think it’s safe to say that my answer to that question is “most systems,” and that by applying common-sense or some other supposedly virtuous simplistic world-view we are voluntarily handing away the only thing that separates us from our primate relatives.

I have a few other thoughts regarding the triumph of intuition and dogma over critical thinking and empirical data, but that will have to wait for another time.

About snarkologist

Engineer, Researcher, Athlete, and Blogger. Jack of all trades, master of none.
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One Response to Political Ideology and Intelligence

  1. Pingback: The Ask Why Campaign | Some Disagree

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