Thursday, October 29, 2009

have you ever thought that conservatives are all stupid?

you were right!
A paper, Conservativism and Cognitive Ability from the psychology journal Intelligence finds that

"Conservatism and cognitive ability are negatively correlated. The evidence is based on 1254 community college students and 1600 foreign students seeking entry to United States' universities. At the individual level of analysis, conservatism scores correlate negatively with SAT, Vocabulary, and Analogy test scores. At the national level of analysis, conservatism scores correlate negatively with measures of education (e.g., gross enrollment at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels) and performance on mathematics and reading assessments from the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) project. They also correlate with components of the Failed States Index and several other measures of economic and political development of nations. Conservatism scores have higher correlations with economic and political measures than estimated IQ scores.

1. Introduction
There has been an increased interest in the construct of conservatism. Recent evidence indicates that some existing stereotypes are not supported by the available data. For example, (Brooks, 2006) and (Brooks, 2008) reports that conservatives engage more than liberals in charitable activities and people on the political right are nearly twice as happy as those on the left. The work of Napier and Jost (2008) shows that conservatives tend to be happier than liberals because of their tendency to justify the current state of affairs and because they are less bothered by inequalities in the society. The focus of these investigators is on political conservatism — tendency to attach high importance to topics that are high on the agendas of right-wing political parties within a given society and, consequently, endorse these parties' candidates in elections. For example, a version of the USA Wilson–Patterson Conservatism Scale (WPC; see Wilson, 1973) used in a study reported by Bouchard et al. (2003) contained 28 items that asked participants to state how important topics such as abortion, property tax, gay rights, liberals and immigration are.1 In the studies reported in the main body of this paper, political conservatism was not examined directly. However, Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, and Sulloway (2003) suggest that it is time to re-examine the links between political conservatism and a host of individual difference variables. A constellation of these individual difference variables may be called Conservative syndrome. Although an alternative label, psychological conservatism, may be more appropriate if one's aim is to contrast politics and psychology, the term syndrome appears to be adequate for a discourse within the field of psychology itself.

Jost et al.'s (2003) meta-analysis confirms that several psychological variables predict political conservatism. The list includes death anxiety; system instability; dogmatism; intolerance of ambiguity, low openness to experience, and uncertainty; need for order, closure, and negative integrative complexity; and fear of threat and loss of self-esteem. The theory of Jost et al. (2003) treats political conservatism as motivated cognition and builds on a large body of research accumulated since the end of World War II. One antecedent is the approach advocated by Wilson's (1973) dynamic theory that also saw conservatism as a motivated response to uncertainty. The threat or uncertainty may derive from fear of death, anarchy, foreigners, dissent, complexity, novelty, ambiguity, and social change. Responses to these sources of uncertainty include superstition, religious dogmatism, ethnocentrism, militarism, authoritarianism, punitiveness, conventionality, and rigid morality. Wilson postulated that political conservatism derives from genetic sources (anxiety proneness, stimulus aversion, low intelligence, and physical unattractiveness) as well as environmental influences (parental coldness, punitiveness, rigidity, inconsistency, and low social class). Jost et al. (2003) summarize their own position in the following way: “The core ideology of conservatism stresses resistance to change and justification of inequality and is motivated by needs that vary situationally and dispositionally to manage uncertainty and threat.” (p. 339).

In this paper, I examine the hypothesis that low cognitive ability may be related to conservative syndrome (or conservatism, for short) which, in turn, is defined in terms of measures of personality, social attitudes, values, and social norms. There are two ways to arrive at this assumption. First, we can assume that cognitive ability affects conservatism directly. Thus, the perceived threat may vary depending on cognitive level — sources of threat such as complexity, novelty, and ambiguity may be more threatening to those who score low as opposed to those who score high on cognitive tests. Second, we can postulate that there exists an independent process that influences both conservatism and cognitive functioning. A candidate for this role may be mental rigidity. My primary aim in this paper is to present evidence of correlation, not to test these two causal models. "


Anonymous said...

Has this already made it through peer review?

Anonymous said...

True intelligence comes from using the levers of power to appropriate wealth and engage in social engineering. As the certified genius (and chess player!) Lenin used to say, to make an omelet you have to break some eggs.

P.S. Bush is an idiot! Amirite?

Anonymous said...

Wow are you really that close-minded?? haha this is a joke. No wonder why I can't stand people that claim to be liberal or conservative, Republican/Democrats . You guys are constantly trying to make each other look stupid. This entire thread is probably the most ignorant thing to be posted on the web today?

Are you really that divisive in your thinking that you think people that have different ideas on economics and other issues are inherently inferior to people that share YOUR views?

This is the bell curve rewritten...these types of things have zero science behind them and only divide...just like you

ben daswani said...

trolling your own blog would be a peculiar practice but i'm going to assume that you're doing it, because there's no way YOU'RE stupid enough think that a correlation between X and Y proves that X and Y are related, let alone that ALL X are Y. on the scale of -1 to 0, what was the correlation between conservatism and intelligence? if it's -1, then yes, all conservatives (in the sample) are unintelligent. but if it's -0.01, who cares?

and if it is statistically significant, still, who cares. community college students? what sort of a bizarrely stupid sample is that?

ChargingKing said...

I'm never amazed with the level of stupidity that comes from people that wrap their whole mindset around a belief, whether its religion or politics. This, Lizzy, is why so many people are fed up with people that are so party affiliated. You guys can't think for yourself, constantly attacking the other side and defending anything that someone in your belief set does.

Doesn't it ever wear thin fighting and creating conflict? I'm so thankful to be independant and not mindlessly following an ideology.

Is there any hope for those that want real change and are sick of you guys playing sides and getting nothing done? Blaming Bush/Obama is not a way to fix the country..

Mark Ginsburg said...

The public pillory for those who espouse modern-day imperialism.

Anonymous said...

Alburt Einstein, Noam Chomsky, Hellen Keller, John Lennon, and Susan B. Anthony were socialists.

I'm sure we could line up some very smart capitalist conservatives as well.

To me it is not so much being smart enough to understand the concepts of economics, rather it is the ability to truly care about the poor.

Elizabeth Vicary said...
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Elizabeth Vicary said...

Maybe this is in my head, but it seems like whenever I come out with a strong belief statement, a set of people express their disappointment in my intelligence.

Clearly a scientific paper about how conservatives are stupid raises a large number of questions about what all the words in that phrase mean and what the statement as a whole could mean and why it is being said.

I have a growing inner conflict about political disagreement … on the one hand I believe fundamentally in being tolerant, conscious that other people are coming from other places, mindful of the duty to fight the certainty that I’m right … on the other hand, modern day conservatism is so egregiously dumb and mean, it seems utterly illogical and irredeemable to me.

really I wanted to publish the article because it seems like such a watershed moment when science itself comes out in favor of a political point of view. How amazing that something could remain politically viable when it’s so nonsensical that what should be an entirely different field of thought calls it out? Imagine what it would take for architecture to get involved in philosophy.

Just as an aside, I think the bits about rates of conservatism in failed nation states might be more complicated. I would imagine living in a failed nation-state makes you more conservative, (more individualistic? less integrated in society? more extreme in your beliefs?) as much as the other way around.

Anonymous said...

Being a liberal myself i've always tried to have fun with the whole left versus right debate. I've never taken offense to the name-calling by conservatives and i've dealt some pretty nasty blows myself.

But Liz I think this is a scary road you're trying to follow. The evidence here is extremely WEAK at best. You wouldn't accept research that gave the same data against you.This seems to be wishful thinking on your part.

The nazis produced similar "research" when they were demonizing jews, gypsys and anyone else that disagreed.

Let me say from the bottom of my heart that not all liberals are this gullible.

Lizzy get back on board with moderate liberals, we want you back = )

Anonymous said...

specifically, what's weak about the evidence / argument? Elizabeth

Unknown said...

Saying conservatives are stupid is being nice to them Liz.


ben daswani said...

what's weak about the argument is that the sample was community college students. there are a MILLION reasons why that is a retarded sample, but here is one of the more obvious ones:

a) a random conservative is likely to be from a family of a higher income level than a random liberal. that should be intuitively obvious to everyone, but in case data is deemed necessary:

b) there is a strong correlation between young adults' political preferences and their parents' political preferences (hopefully no one needs data for that one)

c) thus, a random conservative is more likely than a random liberal to be from a family that can afford to send him or her off to UNIVERSITY

d) thus, a random liberal is more likely than a random conservative to be going to community college even if his/her intelligence level and test scores would allow him/her to attend university

e) thus, a random liberal at a COMMUNITY COLLEGE is likely to be more intelligent and have better test scores than a random conservative at a COMMUNITY COLLEGE

that should all be pretty obvious to a liberal genius though

Elizabeth Vicary said...

Ben, is that a joke?

If it isn't, do you also think that liberal takers of the TOEFL test have different personality traits (more intelligence, bitterness?) than conservative foreign English learners?

Anonymous said...

I applaud your commitment to mocking the right. They are completely uncompromising and are desparately struggling against the modernization of this country, and need to be crushed. When the conservatives have power, they push everything through by force; now that the democrats have power, they are expected to compromise. Mrs. Snowe's false gesture of unity makes that picture pretty complete.

That said, some silly 'science' paper telling me conservatives are stupid is less convincing than listening to Coulter talk for 5 minutes.

Liquid Egg Product said...

Conservatives are stupid is a big leap to make.

I'd be interested to see studies that included older age groups to see if the pattern still holds.

College students might be a very different animal from older adults...or even peers that are not taking higher education.

There is also this statement from the paper: "Conservatism correlates negatively with measures of cognitive ability and educational achievement at both individual- and country levels of analysis. We cannot make any statements about the causality, however."

Barnum said...

Strange. Most of the conservatives I know are intelligent, well educated, thoughtful people with a philosophical bent, while most of the liberals I know tend to be simplistic, naïve, childlike, short-sighted, mean-spirited, dishonest, envious, covetous, selfish, hateful, sneering, deprecating, masses-loving but individual people-hating, bordering on tyrannical dummies. How odd. But then again, who am I to argue with an article in a psychology journal (a field renowned for its quantitative and intellectual rigor)?

John C. Fernandez said...

Isn't the problem here that "conservative" means absolutely nothing when applied broadly? Perhaps we should look at social conservativism (where you'll definitely see an intelligence correlation), but in things like financial conservativism, you're likely to see intelligent people throughout.

People CAN be socially rabid liberals and economically very conservative, it is just sad that the modern American political climage ignores this possibility.

Anonymous said...

No, actually I think all Liberals are stupid.

Bill Brock said...
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Bill Brock said...

Daniel Bell's The End of Ideology is a very good book by an American conservative.

Most of the conservatives I knew back in academia (circa 1989, the Year History Ended) were ideologically nimble, not at all prisoners of their worldview. YMMV. I cannot say the same of all of my fellow leftists (this was the apogee of the deconstructive follies).


OTOH, I know folks who write for the WSJ (including one Pulitzer winner): to a person, they are embarrassed by the idiocy of the WSJ editorial page. (I read Forbes and the WSJ regularly and learn a lot from both.)

People like Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh are performers: they advance a worldview as an entertainment and are paid handsomely for their performance as provacateurs. It's unfair to expect them to believe what they say, and one should assume an ironic distance between their worldview and their words (especially Limbaugh, who is one smart cookie--I believe he's even as good a woodpusher as Howard Stern).

There is an intellectual poverty among US conservatives today: one hopes this is temporary. The spectacular failure of the neocons in the early part of this decade led to a brain drain.

This is not healthy for the country: both the party in power and the opposition's shadow government will (ideally) be run by smart and principled people.

(*pauses to allow laughter to die down*)

We should worry less about the relative intelligence of political parties and more about the clusterfuck in Afghanistan.

es_trick said...

ben daswani said:
“a) a random conservative is likely to be from a family of a higher income level than a random liberal.”
“d) thus, a random liberal is more likely than a random conservative to be going to community college”

I’ve looked at this data, and ben appears to be basing his whole line of reasoning on what appear to be unfounded assumptions.
While it is clear that the overwhelming majority of voters in the income brackets of ‘Under $15k’ and ‘$15k-$30k,' and a significant majority of voters in the $30-$50k income bracket went for Obama in 2008, it does not necessarily follow that all or most students attending community colleges would come from households in these income brackets.

But even if we give that assumption a ‘pass,’ there are other problems with his reasoning. If, for the moment, we confine our discussion to the population of voters who reported earning less than $50k, then 15.9% of them were in the lowest income bracket, 31.4% of them were in the $15 - $30k bracket, and 50.3% were in the $30k - $50k bracket.

Is there any evidence that the population of community college students is comprised of people from these income brackets in the same proportions? Is there any evidence that More Than 15.9% of community college students are from households with less than $15k of income per year?

On the contrary, I believe there is plenty of evidence indicating the opposite is true. Every report I have ever seen on the matter associates higher rates of poverty with being African American and Latino. The article cited shows that 22% of the voters in 2008 were from these two minority groups, and that 95% of Black voters and 67% of Latino voters went for Obama. In addition, every report I’ve ever seen states that these two minority groups are vastly under represented at institutions of higher learning, which would include community colleges.

Putting this information together strongly suggests that the two lowest income brackets had a disproportionate representation of Black and Latino voters, and that the population of community college students is under represented by people from these minority groups.

Therefore, I would expect that students from the lowest income bracket comprise far less than 15.9% of the population of community college students. I would also be surprised if as many as 31.4% of community college students come from households in the $15 - $30k income bracket.

It’s also worth pointing out that if you add together all of the voters from middle and high income brackets, those who reported having a household income of $50k or more, slightly more voted for Obama than for McCain. So, even ben’s very first claim, that “a) a random conservative is likely to be from a family of a higher income level than a random liberal” is only “obvious” if you jump to the conclusion that because the great majority of low income voters went for Obama, the majority of Obama voters were from the low income bracket. Only 19% of voters came from low income households.

All in all, it would appear that the assumptions ben is relying on to support his claim that
“a random liberal is more likely than a random conservative to be going to community college”
are not tenable. His argument is far from being the slam dunk he seems to think it is.

Anonymous said...

Liberals gave the Nobel peace prize to a person who has continued the warmongering policies of a conservative, claiming that he provides hope to the world. Now that is stupid.

Anonymous said...

I'm an old school liberal in the tradition of Bill Clinton and I don't know what the #$#@ Lizzy is trying to do here. There is no way someone could be that stupid to believe that a political leaning could show intelligence.Intelligence in general is still debated as to what we are quantifiying.

Lizzy stop making us all look like hate mongerers!

Bazooby said...

I just read the paper, and I have to say that the word "conservative" as used by the paper bears no resemblance to (political) conservatism as it is commonly understood in the U.S. Instead, the paper ties conservatism to personality traits that constitute a rather bigoted caricature (at best). Let's at least be honest about that.

Anonymous said...

I have to cry foul on a number of levels. The paper talks about conservatism in association with "dogmatism," "authoritarianism," "low openness to experience," and other abstractions that don't begin to sound like real conservatives I know (or rather, they describe a minority of liberals and conservatives equally). There is no substantive mention of the size and scope of government, role of the military, judicial activism vs. restraint, public interest vs. individual rights, the proper level of taxation, or any other issues that define the political chasm. Reasonable, principled, intelligent, and (above all) decent people can differ on these things. To move forward as a society together we better find a way to get along and reach some common ground, instead of trying to prove that one side is stupid.

es_trick said...

There's an interesting book just out by Sam Tanenhaus, that traces the history of political conservatism from the time of Edmund Burke to the present. Tanenhaus argues that the contemporary Right in US politics has abandoned the classical principles of conservatism, as defined by Burke.

He makes the surprising case that Clinton was, in fact, the last "conservative" president in the classical sense of the word!

Anonymous said...

This is what I would suggest...

Anonymous said...

I see from the citations to the paper that there is an entire sub-discipline devoted to proving that conservatism = stupidity (or some variation on the theme). My first reaction was revulsion: what if you replace "conservatives" by an ethnic, racial or religious group: wouldn't the outcry be rightly deafening?

But then I began to wonder what possible purpose there could be to this line of research. Does it prove that conservatives are stupid? Plainly not, there are both liberals and conservatives who are twice as smart as you, and ten times as smart as I. Does it prove that conservative ideas are wrong? Again, obviously not. One can easily dismiss their working definition of conservatism (as others have done in above comments), and besides, it does not take on the issues anyway. Indeed, perhaps the authors are too cowardly, or ignorant, or dishonest (it could be all three) to debate the actual merits of conservative ideas; instead, they aim to discredit or delegitimize their political opponents via an ad hominem attack, as I am doing with this sentence. Fair's fair, isn't it?

Actually, I think there is another angle. Maybe these authors really and truly believe that liberalism is just so obviously correct, and conservatism is so blatantly false, that a person could only be a conservative due to some constellation of mental defects. If this is the case (and this might apply to some of you readers as well), then I submit that somebody needs to crawl out of his/her insulated little left wing bubble and see the world from a broader perspective.

Anonymous said...

The paper's outcome is consistent with the widely opined view that America's universities are run by liberal professors. If that is true, as the conservative thinking goes, might one of the reasons for this be that liberals are smarter than conservatives?

There are a lot of data out there about political leanings and intellegence, and all of that data suggests the same-- liberals are smarter than conservatives.

We see it in the political world all the time -- conservatives see the world as black and white, good vs. evil. This is a simple worldview for the less smart. Liberals tend to see shades of gray, a more complex and nuanced stance. So many of the politico-pundits from both sides of the isle agree with this gross charcaterization (e.g. a liberal who changes his mind when he gets new evidence is a 'flip-flopper', while Bush's 'staying the course' is praised) that the lower brain power of the far right seems self-evident to everyone on both sides of the isle.

One note of caution, in my own experience, 90% of scientists are liberals (more of that extra intelligence?); of course this means that most 'scientific' efforts to quantify conservative idoicy are laced with problems of bias. --Jason

Ashish said...

Maybe IQ isn't everything:

Anonymous said...

"A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government."

"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them."

"Leave no authority existing not responsible to the people."

"My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government."

"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not."

Thomas Jefferson, who was not stupid

ben daswani said...

not sure if this thread is even active anymore, but...

@Elizabeth, no, I was far from joking. I see no reason why what I wrote would be untrue (more substantial explanation below). I don't know anything about the TOEFL (had to look it up), so I really can't respond... additionally, I would think it would depend on the nationality of the test-takers. I mean, I understand the stereotypical differences between liberals and conservatives in canada and america, but what does it mean to be "conservative" in romania? i have no clue.

@es_trick, I think you misunderstood my point. I'm not saying that X% of students come from this or that bracket, or that all community college students are poor, my point is just that the AVERAGE conservative has more money than the AVERAGE liberal (which I'm sure you agree with), and that on average this should mean that less liberals are able to afford to send their kids to universities. I'm not even saying that everyone in the lower bracket can't afford to send their kids to uni and everyone in the higher bracket can. some people save better than others, some people have other more important costs (e.g. medical), whatever, but on AVERAGE, a random conservative is more likely to have enough money to send his kid to uni than a random liberal.

your points about race are fair, and I hadn't considered that, but does what you're saying make enough of a difference to cancel out what I'm saying? it'd take some statistical analysis to know. did the article do any in this area? no. from an academic standpoint, the article was horrendous. MAYBE the average liberal is more intelligent than the average conservative. however, this article, which essentially amounts to nothing more than childish name-calling, does absolutely nothing to prove it.