Does Smart Equal Liberal?
Friday, January 11, 2008
By Wray Herbert
Nobody thinks their own values and attitudes are foolish. It goes against human nature. Say you meet someone who believes that a woman’s proper place is in the home. And say, for the purposes of argument, that you firmly believe this as well. You are going to assume that this person who shares this core value is intelligent, that this attitude is a reflection of reason and mental acuity. Or say you meet someone who shares your concern for the natural environment. You will automatically conclude that this new acquaintance must be a sophisticated thinker. At the very least, you are not going to think, hey, he’s a lot like me, he must be stupid.
Given that this is true, how can we ever know if some values are more intelligent, more reasoned, or more cognitively sophisticated than others? Put another way, does native intelligence lead to a certain set of values, and stupidity to another worldview altogether?
Surprisingly, this fundamental question has never been examined scientifically—until now. Psychologist Ian Deary of the University of Edinburgh realized he could explore the link between IQ and values using a very large existing data base on kids who were born in 1970. These boys and girls, more than 7000 of them, had all taken IQ tests at the age of ten, so he was able to sort out the bright kids from their duller classmates. These kids had then been tracked and interviewed repeatedly for two decades, so there was a rich record of not only their education and work lives but also their basic attitudes and beliefs: on race, gender equality, the environment, the sanctity of marriage, and so forth. In short, Deary wanted to see what kind of people they turned into at age 30, as they stood on the cusp of the 21st century.
Not to put too fine a point on it: The smartest kids turned into the most broad-minded and progressive adults. For example, the most intelligent kids turned out 20 years later to be much more tolerant of other races. They were also much more supportive of working mothers, rejecting the notion that pre-school children will suffer without a stay-at-home mother. In general, the sharpest kids came to embrace much less traditional moral values and were much more apt to challenge authority. They were also much less cynical as adults, more trusting that the political system can do good.
Why would native intelligence translate into a more enlightened worldview later on? One obvious possibility is that the smarter kids end up getting a better education; they read more books and newspapers and are exposed to a richer culture of ideas. But the data, reported in the January issue of Psychological Science, don’t appear to support this explanation.
Instead, it appears to be something about the intelligent brain itself: Smart people may have a different emotional makeup, a personality that is more open to experience. Or it may be that high IQ at age ten eventually leads to more complex moral reasoning: In short, smart people alone may have the cognitive machinery that’s needed for more flexible analysis of political and moral quandaries.
For more insights into human nature, visit “We’re Only Human . . .” at www.psychologicalscience.org/onlyhuman.
posted by Wray Herbert @ 10:58 AM