Why We’re Better

An evolutionary psychologist at the the London School of Economics and Political Science crunched a whole lot of data from a large U.S. sample and found that people who identified as liberal and atheist had higher IQs. Also, high-IQ men were also more likely to be sexually exclusive than lower IQ men, but the same correlation was not found in women.

“The IQ differences, while statistically significant, are not stunning — on the order of 6 to 11 points,” the article says. It would be interesting to me if the same correlations are to be found in other populations, as the U.S. seems to have an abnormally high proportion of, um, cognitively challenged religious conservatives.

28 thoughts on “Why We’re Better

  1. We have power back!!! After 2 days. And cable! And, after power, the next most important thing – the internet!! I’ve been jonesing without it.
    We have 5 trees blocking our driveway out to the road. My brother-in-law and nephew are trying to cut them up so that we can get out. I’m handicapped (no, not mentally! physically!), so all I can do is offer moral support.
    If I can get out after being trapped in the house for two days, I’m going to sing, “BORN FREE!”

    And of course we have higher IQ’s. Would anyone but a dumbass think otherwise?
    Others can pray for good will towards “men,” we actually try to do something about that.

  2. I’d be cautious in spending too much time in patting ourselves on the back.

    “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.”

    • “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.”

      Good enough. One of the primary differences between liberal and conservative is that liberals see how leveling the societal and economic playing field benefits everyone, whereas conservatives want to maintain class and financial hierarchies, for some reason. All other political beliefs flow from that.

  3. This dovetails with something I wrote this morning.
    Imagine, if you will, a cruise ship where the life vests are optional, and the life boats are there as an option one must pay for.If the ship goes down and you didn’t pay for the option; sorry about your luck.
    Surveillance cameras are everywhere,( if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear) every meal is preceeded with “grace”, and there is an assembly each morning and evening featuring the singing of the National Anthem , the raising/ lowering of the flag, and a prayer. You may carry a gun on the cruise, in fact, it is encouraged.
    Everything on the menu is a la carte.
    Some don’t have a room but may sleep on the deck chairs, as long as they don’t ask anyone for anything, and are out of sight by breakfast.
    FOX news is on all T.V. monitors
    There are no brown, black, or (God forbid) Muslim faces on board.
    All will sport American flag lapel pins at dinner.
    Their is a daily anti tax rally followed with a support the troops tribute.
    There are seminars nightly about the hoax of global warming, the evils of Nancy Pelosi, the communist take over of our health care system, home schooling of children, and Obama’s fake birth certificate
    No refunds for inclement weather, the ghost of Leona Helmsey walks the halls at night………..
    Now for the irony; We have spent a trillion dollars , killed over a million “insurgents”, and wasted over 5 thousand American soldiers lives to secure the oil fields of Iraq and the pipeline route in Afghanistan, and a dude from India produces a “Bloombox” that will power your whole house for pennies per day.
    I feel like I just spent a trillion dollars for a collection of 8 track tapes…………

  4. Gulag, are you in NYC? The storm that just hit… on satellite, it could be seen to have cyclonic rotation, like a hurricane, with the “eye” hanging right over Long Island. What would they call that? A “blizzicane”? Yikes. Anyway, for whatever reason it went out, glad your electricity’s back on!

    And everyone on the Pacific Coast, for the love of Darwin, grab onto something that’s nailed down, and HANG ON. Tsunami a-comin’!

  5. [H]igh-IQ men were also more likely to be sexually exclusive than lower IQ men, but the same correlation was not found in women.

    Not sure what to make of that. How’s that Cole Porter song go? “I’m always true to you… in my fashion”?

  6. I watched 7 hours of the summit and left feeling we were two tribes who could not communicate. Obama’s stunning intellect and ability to be fair and lead the summit made me want to see him do this more. He seemed puzzled that not only half the “class” was blocked, but they did not seem to have the ability to participate beyond talking points. Ryan can work the math, but are we ready to abandon social programs? One doctors tried to be polite, but said illness comes from being fat and unfit. One side emoted about the suffering, but received hostile glares in return. My conclusion was that at least for a short time we were able to include compassion in our discussion before perhaps we return to what was a black hole of 8 years of Bush. I hope we are able to continue to include compassion in our dialogue.

  7. Joan,
    I’m in upstate NY, near Poughkeepsie. We got almost two feet of wet, heavy snow. Other towns around us got about a foot. Thank goodness we didn’t have the high winds they were predicting for us, or a tree or three might have landed on our house. One missed the house by about 4 inches.
    We’ve had more snow than this, but nowhere near as much damage. I’m hoping the snow-plow guy comes so I can get out onto the road on Monday to get to my minimum wage job so that I can keep it.

  8. I saw the headline (high IQ=liberal) and had one word to say to myself–DUH! I want to point out that since St. Ronny, our education system has gone down the tubes. That’s how ‘those people’ stay in power, the dumbing of America.
    Having said that, not too worried about my folks in and around the Hawaiian Islands should be fine. You haven’t lived until you’ve been awakened by those awful sirens at pre-dawn. We are well practiced answering to those sirens and everyone knows what to do. Just want to point out that the only people stupid enough to run TO the beach instead of away from it are surfers….and trust me, none of them are conservatives.

    Has anyone been watching the Olympics? Hmm, I can see why all of you suffering the snow storms wouldn’t want to watch it. Hope that was the last one for this year. I seem to be addicted to them and am already feeling the pain of loss coming on……kathleen, stuck in baton rouge without a paddle

  9. Kathleen,
    You’re right about the dumbing down of America. The closer our knuckles come to dragging on the ground, the more likely we are to vote Republican. Having a decent education at least gives one the tools with which to reason, and they can’t have that. They live on fear. Now, many of them are educated. I believe they make a choice to prevaricate. It makes them more money.
    And Kathleen,
    “… stuck in baton rouge without a paddle.” Look on the plus side – at least you’re not “Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again…”*

    *By the great, great, great Bob Dylan. Btw, did I mention that he’s great?

  10. We’re not better! Just because we’re smarter and more compassionate and secure and don’t believe every fairy tale relating to god.. Don’t mean we’re better.

  11. For men, on the other hand, sexual exclusivity goes against the grain evolutionarily. With a goal of spreading genes, early men had multiple mates.

    I doubt that early men even knew what a gene is, let alone to have a goal of reasoned distribution of said genes…When it comes to sex most guys have the reasoning power equivalent to common bacteria…Just to complete a function assigned to them by nature without consideration to evolutionary consequences.

    Ex-Senator Larry Craig’s name keep popping into my mind.. I don’t know why, but for some reason his airport men’s room escapades, and his thinking that somehow his actions would go unnoticed if he pleaded guilty shows me a void of reasoning in the conservative mind.

  12. Kathleen, I always loved to watch the Winter Olympics. But with neither cable or satellite, and the nearest NBC affiliate too far for the digital signal to reach me, I didn’t watch this year. I remember that jarring, cold-turkey feeling when it was all over.

    Tom Maguire, if that was a serious question… you’ve got genius envy. Only small men (and minds) dread yardsticks.

  13. I don’t believe that pointing out how smart we are, or how dumb the opposition is, even if it’s true, is in any way useful. It makes us feel good, and it makes them feel angry, which in turn makes us feel even better, etc. But that is driving division, and I’ve never understood how dividing the sides, driving them further apart, really serves any useful purpose. I prefer finding common ground for creating a peaceful society, one where the wishes of both parties are considered and respected even when the majority’s program prevails.

    That’s what the filibuster is all about, you know. It is the mechanism that the Senate created to assure that the minority party would not be rendered utterly irrelevant, that it would still have a voice. The fact that it is being abused today does not make it evil, and does not mean that it should be removed.

    • I prefer finding common ground for creating a peaceful society, one where the wishes of both parties are considered and respected even when the majority’s program prevails.

      And what planet do you live on? On this one, the only way the majority can prevail is by shutting out the minority. There’s no working with them. It’s like trying to play spin the bottle with hungry alligators.

  14. Bill H,

    You’re right, working together peacefully is what we should be doing. The problem is, as Maha has pointed out many times, is that the minority party has demonstrated that they do not want to work with the majority.

    The Republicans make themselves irrelevant not because there are fewer of them but because all they offer is talking points and no reasonable proposals. If they started acting like adults and stopped telling their constituents that “Obamacare” will destroy America, then maybe they could get something done together.

  15. Bill, I agree with you that concentrating on differences can be divisive — in fact, I’d lay some pretty long odds on that being the intent of the corporatist noise machine: Keep the peasants fighting among themselves lest they see the manipulating monied interests behind the curtain.

    There are as many different kinds of IQ tests as there are theories of human intelligence and, while it might be interesting to see which ones were used in this study, given allowances for margins of error the resported results do not necessarily prove much.

    What I kinds suspect might be more telling would be a test that measures insecurity and fearfullness. Be afraid…be very afraid of: the wrath of God, terrorists, Big Government, losing your job, going hungry, your children’s future, people unlike yourself… It’s hard for people to think clearly when they’re scared spitless. Much easier to stay with your flock and endure the known, no matter how awful it may be, than to venture into the unknown and possibly suffer something even worse.

  16. I don’t believe that pointing out how smart we are, or how dumb the opposition is, even if it’s true, is in any way useful.

    There is “low-IQ,” and then there is willful, intentional stupidity. For examples, insisting on only Faux Noise and AM hate radio as one’s sole sources of information, even knowing that Faux Noise and hate radio tell lies. Supporting the Bush Administration as it damned near destroyed this country. Blaming Obama for Bush’s sins. Mocking higher culture. Disbelieving scientific method and its results. Admiring people of no accomplishment and vast hypocrisy. Having no criteria for judging right and wrong other than “my pastor said so” or “Rush Limbaugh [see previous point] said so.” Refusing, at all times, to think for oneself.

    I’ve tried and tried in vain to overcome divisions with such people, because I work with them forty hours a week. They won’t meet anyone halfway. And stupid really is as stupid does, as some wise but low-IQ fictional character once said. So I think it is useful to finally say, “Enough. Drown in the mire of intellectual laziness if you insist. I’m done trying to haul you out.”

  17. Wooster: Do you know everything Jeeves?

    Jeeves: I really don’t know, sir. My mother thought me intelligent.

    Wooster: Well, can’t go by that, my mother thought me intelligent as well.


    I can see this as a bit of fun. But, ever since I read “The Mismeasure of Man” by Stephen Jay Gould, I have been less likely to accept our assessment of intelligence quite so readily. There seem to be many sorts of intelligence that seem unaddressed by I’Q. tests, such as what is sometimes called “emotional intelligence”, physical intelligence such as sporting abilities, etc. I think that tradtional I.Q. tests measure something, but not every type mental capacity. What we can measure is amplified in importance, if only by our ability to define and observe it.

    I think it is interesting that Kanasawa, cites the tendency to accept and entertain new ideas and concepts as a kind of “display”. This sounds very familiar doesn’t it? I am not discounting the value of “display” but surely innovative thinking has other important merits, not so well fitted to his “strong libertarianism.”

    There is also a practical side to concern for unrelated others. I am watching a number of long established family run businesses struggle in the current recession. One confided that his sales were off more than 25%. It seems obvious in this economic climate that a family on unemployment insurance can contribute more to the economy than one that is destitute. In times like these our interdependence seems more apparent. Given this modest understanding, this concern hardly seems entirely altruistic or “unnatural”.

    I would also like to see if there is a measure of how rigidly idealogies are held, among conservatives vs. liberals . I see idealogies as similar to models used in science, which serve to explain a phenomenon by analogy and simplification. They serve as guides and are not to be accepted as reality. Political idealogies have a comforting and empowering way of making sense out of a complex and often threatening reality, so there is a psychological bond (attachment) which can insinuate readily into one’s sense of identity. The delusion is not in the logic, but in the belief that such a complex system can be reduced to logic at all.


    The common people see religion as true, the wise, as false and the rulers, as useful.
    — Seneca

    Sorry if this is disjointed, I have a very sick goat to tend to.

  18. Before everyone goes a little wild here, the point is that high-IQ people tend to reject the prevailing orthodoxy. In Japan it correlates with Christianity since it’s a minority and dissatisfaction with the orthodox status quo manifests that way. I think you should probably look at the arguments here before just reveling in your superiority.


    Also I guess I have to ask, if liberals are so smart why are we losing so badly? What’s the point of being smart if you’re ineffectual?

  19. MNPundit, a couple salient points on the author of your link, Ilya Somin:

    He’s a member of the Cato Institute.

    He clerked for a Reagan appointee to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Jerry Edwin Smith:

    Judge Smith wrote the majority opinion in Hopwood v. Texas, 78 F.3d 932 (5th Cir. 1996), in which the Fifth Circuit struck down the use of affirmative action in admissions at the University of Texas School of Law. Seven years later, the decision was abrogated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003).

    In Corrosion Proof Fittings v. EPA, 947 F.2d 1201 (5th Cir. 1991), Judge Smith wrote the panel opinion which required the United States Environmental Protection Agency to use cost-benefit analysis when deciding whether to ban a toxic substance. [Wikipedia]

    In his original post (not the one you linked) on the Kanazawa article, Somin argues: “[A] libertarian who believes that free market policies best promote the welfare of ‘genetically unrelated others’ and contributes a great deal of his money to charities promoting libertarian causes counts as a liberal under Kanazawa’s definition.” Somin fails to explain how “promoting libertarian causes” improves the welfare of “genetically unrelated others,” and it seems pretty obvious to me that he ignores this logical chasm because he’s a libertarian himself.

  20. Libertarian causes like don’t spy on me and don’t jump into every foreign war probably do improve it. But that’s really not the point of the link.

    Besides you can’t tag Cato as auto-discount. Cato is cited by people on the left as well positively, Yglesias for instance. They can and do produce worthwhile work.

    But really the point is that if there is a study that correlates increased intelligence in Japan with Christianity we should take a look at it and not jump to the conclusion that higher IQ = atheist. It could just as easily be higher IQ = non-conformist.

  21. [Note from Maha: With some misgivings I decided to allow this comment, but note that it is a copy and paste from an Amazon review. The comments that follow are useful. My misgivings are that much of Gould’s purpose in “Mismeasure” was to knock down junk science that purported to show some racial groups are superior to others, and so I suspect that anyone this obsessive about denouncing a 20-year-old book has, um, an agenda. — maha]

    **But, ever since I read “The Mismeasure of Man” by Stephen Jay Gould, I have been less likely to accept our assessment of intelligence quite so readily.**

    Unfortunately, there is little in that book that is correct.

    Gould’s allegation that Morton had doctored his skull collection was re-investigated by John Michael. Michael found very few errors & those that were found were not in the direction Gould claimed.

    Michael JS 1988. A new look at Morton’s craniological research. Current Anthropology 29: 349- 54. In the 1996 edition of his book Gould completely avoids Michael’s study.

    Galton (1888) observed a brain size/cognitive ability relationship. Modern MRI imaging confirms a positive correlation. Gould managed to omit a major literature review on the correlation between brain size and cognitive ability by Van Dalen (1974). In his 1996 version Gould simply deleted the whole section as the MRI evidence on brain size & IQ was obviously damaging to Gould’s position.

    For an up to date analysis for the biological correlates of intelligence, see the paper by UCLA Neuroscientist, Paul Thompson, and Yale Psychologist Jeremy Gray,

    “Correlations between intelligence and total brain volume
    or grey matter volume have been replicated in magnetic
    resonance imaging (MRI) studies, to the extent that
    intelligence is now commonly used as a confounding
    variable in morphometric studies of disease. MRI-based
    studies estimate a moderate correlation between brain
    size and intelligence of 0.40 to 0.51 (REF. 28; see REF. 29
    on interpreting this correlation, and REF. 30 for a
    meta-analysis).” *

    * ‘Neurobiology of intelligence: science and ethics’ Nature Reviews Neuroscience 5, 471-482 (June 2004)


    Also, see: Ankney, C. D. (2009). Whole-brain size and general mental ability: A review. International Journal of Neuroscience, 119, 691-731


    Gould’s criticism of factor analysis (and ‘g’) is flawed: see John Carroll’s review Intelligence 21, 121-134 1995 and also Jensen Contemporary Education Review Summer 1982, Volume 1, Number 2, pp. 121- 135.


    David J. Bartholomew, from London School of Economics, who has written a textbook on factor analysis, also explains in “Measuring Intelligence: Facts and Fallacies” explains where Gould goes wrong in this area.

    Gould suggests that Jews tested poorly in the 1920’s & this lead to the Immigration Act 1924. These claims are incorrect.

    The idea that Jews tested poorly is actually based on a misrepresentation of a paper authored by Henry Goddard in 1917. Goddard gave IQ tests to people suspected of being mentally handicapped. He found the tests identified a number of such people from various immigrant groups, including Ashkenazi Jews. Leon Kamin in 1974 reported that Goddard had found Jews had low IQ scores. However, Goddard never found that Jews or other groups as a general population had low scores.


    Journal of Biosocial Science 38 (5), pp. 659-693 (2006).

    The other misconception is that this contributed to the 1924 Immigration Act. However, Herrnstein & Snyderman found this was not the case (Intelligence Tests and the Immigration Act of 1924′ American Psychologist 38, September 1983).

    Also, see this recent twin study by Thompson looking at myelination, which insulates neurons and is linked to mental processing speed – reported in MIT Technology Review:

    “The UCLA researchers took the study a step further by comparing the white matter architecture of identical twins, who share almost all their DNA, and fraternal twins, who share only half. Results showed that the quality of the white matter is highly genetically determined, although the influence of genetics varies by brain area. According to the findings, about 85 percent of the variation in white matter in the parietal lobe, which is involved in mathematics, logic, and visual-spatial skills, can be attributed to genetics. But only about 45 percent of the variation in the temporal lobe, which plays a central role in learning and memory, appears to be inherited.”


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