Liberals and atheists are smarter
March 1, 2010
Psychologist links teen IQ levels with Liberalism, atheism, male sexual exclusivity
In new research bound to irk conservative geniuses, people with high IQs are deemed more likely to be liberal, monogamous non-believers than those who are less intelligent.
Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist from the London School of Economics and Political Science, says it makes sense biologically.
In an article for Social Psychology Quarterly, Kanazawa lays out facts based on U.S. data to support his theory. According to that research, young adults who identify as "not at all religious" had an average IQ of 103 as teens, while those who identified as "very religious" had an average IQ of 97.
Similarly, young adults who called themselves "very liberal" had an average IQ of 106 during adolescence, while those who identified themselves as "very conservative" had average IQs of 95.
Kanazawa believes there are evolutionary reasons behind this.
Ten thousand years ago, when humans were hunter-gatherers, we mated, tended to our kin and fled when danger was in the air activities that did not require much intelligence.
Kanazawa says humans were thus biologically designed to be conservative and put a high value on family.
"What is conservative in the U.S. caring about your family and your friends and your kin is sort of evolutionarily familiar," Kanazawa says.
"We are designed to care only about people we associate with."
Among our ancestors, men though not women were polygynous, having more than one sexual partner.
And the U.S. data show a relationship between male adolescent intelligence and how much, as adults, they came to value sexual exclusivity. The more intelligent the male respondents were, the more they believed in monogamy.
It was also natural for hunter-gatherers to seek intentions behind natural phenomena, leading to religious belief, Kanazawa says.
The ability to think and reason, he says, evolved to deal with occasional but serious problems such as fires caused by lightning strikes, flash floods or severe droughts that threatened starvation. He terms these phenomena as evolutionarily novel.
As time passed, more of the elements of our lives fell into the "evolutionarily novel" category, Kanazawa says. People who are more intelligent, he argues, are better able to consider these novel elements and decide, for example, that liberalism, atheism or monogamy are things they want to subscribe to.
"Liberalism, caring about millions of total strangers and giving up money to make sure that those strangers will do well, is evolutionarily novel," Kanazawa says.
In other words, the ability to respond to any element that is evolutionarily novel, whether it's caring about earthquake victims in Haiti or accepting the theories of Darwin, is tied to intelligence.
Does this model help in understanding Canada's liberal-conservative divide? John English, editor of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, says that in the last decade or so, university-educated people have tended to be politically liberal.
But as far as religion goes, our experience differs.
"In the States, you have to be religious to be a politician, but the founding fathers weren't all that religious and certainly you can find many in the '50s and '60s who weren't that religious," he says. "But now it's expected....Those are the formalities."
Sir Wilfrid Laurier, a Liberal, was agnostic but never said so, English says.
"He would regularly say, 'I'm Roman Catholic....' He was not a believer but he realized he couldn't say that publicly."
Neither, English says, could Lester B. Pearson, a brilliant (and notably monogamous) Liberal who did not practise religion.
Maryanne Fisher, a professor in the department of psychology at St. Mary's University in Halifax, says Kanazawa's new theory is provocative, but she has her doubts.
"I could see how smart people might be more apt to wanting to push boundaries but, at the same time," she says, "I can easily think of many intelligent people I've met who would be exceptions to this rule."
Kanazawa says future research will explore whether intelligent people are more likely to buy into other evolutionarily novel values, like vegetarianism, feminism, pacifism and environmentalism.
Meanwhile, he expects the average intelligence of all western populations to decline slightly in the 21st century, because more intelligent people tend to have fewer offspring.
Interestingly, Kanazawa describes himself as a married atheist libertarian with a strong distaste for liberals.
But, as a scientist, he says he is bound to report the facts.
"Atheism is more than just the knowledge that gods do not exist, and that religion is either a mistake or a fraud. Atheism is an attitude, a frame of mind that looks at the world objectively, fearlessly, always trying to understand all things as...a part of nature." Carl Sagan (1934-1996) American astronomer, astrophysicist and author.