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

posted by Wray Herbert @ 10:58 AM


At 5:48 PM , Blogger udigrudi said...

As the University of Glamorgan says "Great minds DON'T think alike". Intelligent people can see that other intelligent people would disagree with them about important things.

I think following any party line to the toe is idiotic, since political parties are just coalitions of special interest groups anyway. But many intelligent people do idiotic things. They used to think the world was flat, that nuclear power was impossible, that the Titanic was unsinkable... and we as a society probably still believe many things that our descendants will find ridiculous.

I'd like to see the Intelligence tests given to the 70's babies (or the 1980 10 year olds), as well as the test the researchers used to see how open minded the 7000 students were afterwards. (and I wonder if the same test were given twenty years earlier if we'd have the same results). If we could see these two tests, we may be able to comment on them intelligently. (Personally, I thought liberals were against standardized testing anyway, but maybe that's a British liberal thing).

I was born a little later, I did extremely well in aptitude tests that consisted of Arithmetic and English reading comprehension. But had the tests been on reading music and mechanics, I probably wouldn't have done so well. I don't think my intelligence (or lack of it) shaped my moral beliefs anyway.

At 7:12 PM , Blogger fpembroke said...

I have an IQ of 168,(tested by every school I ever attended, and only varied a point or two)and I graduated with a 4.0 gpa. I was a liberal back in the hopeful '60s, but I've almost recovered from it. Experience disenchanted me...that and having to pay astronomical income taxes to support liberal programs that never seemed to make things better. It's amazing how different real life is from the utopia we dreamed it would be if only we all loved one another. One big family, it takes a village, he ain't heavy he's my brother...while we were singing and holding hands, society was devolving. If only we could do something about entropy.

At 1:20 AM , Blogger PhD in Yogurtry said...

I've always wondered if this question has been explored. Thanks for summarizing. One finds a great many liberals among university faculty and it is assumed that these are some of the greatest minds.

Hark back to the campaign rhetoric of 2004. Those clueless, snobbish, east coast ivory tower liberal elitists. To paraphrase an opinion page observation: If these liberal elitists are so misguided, why do conservatives salivate at the thought of their kids getting a degree under them?

At 8:35 AM , Blogger udigrudi said...

Define smart. Define liberal. Neither is very clear and dry. Mozart and Einstein were both declared geniuses, but I doubt either would do well on a standard IQ test.

As far as liberal goes, that's even harder to define. It used to mean someone in favor of the free market and such (what Americans now call Libertarian).

Now it's more of a political affiliation (and if often used to mean weak-willed or cowardly, just as conservative is used to mean prudish and dull)

At 6:57 PM , Blogger Lea9017 said...

In the honors program at my school you'll find mostly liberal minds with a few conservatives being guided by family memebers or religion.

Recently I had come to this conclusion myself, that higher inteligence translated to more open ideals

At 3:35 AM , Blogger AnarchyA said...

That's not true! I'm passed the spectrum of "liberal" & I can honestly say an IQ test doesn't do me any good. Yet, I excel at non-test environments. I like to say bright in that context than "smart". I've met some very "smart" people, smarter then myself and they can be or become very narrow minded or even worse DULL scientists. There are plenty of conservative "smart" people as well. I think the data fails to consider ALL factors at play in the REAL WORLD. I pick on two of my best friends all the time, I say "You're really smart, you're just not too bright" and another good friend I say "You're really bright, you're just not that smart" lol ;-) See my point?

At 4:29 AM , Blogger ed said...

Its funny to see how the posts from liberals and non liberals reinforce the essence of the article. (If you don't agree with me than you are inferior or if you do your pretty bright)
Like all things human, these results are based on statistics. So it's mostly true. Their are stupid liberals and brilliant conservatives. But, if you are bright the odds go up that you are able to recognize that you are no more special than the other guy. Now, if you can just get him to see that.

At 5:06 AM , Blogger udigrudi said...

I think smart also equals blocking out Chinese spammers. Seriously, on my blog I blocked out the Chinese, and my spam was reduced incredibly.

At 12:38 PM , Blogger Cruikshank said...

There are many intelligent people who cling to traditional, conservative, black and white values, and who are cynical about the government's ability to good. Some of these people are also wealthy, though--so in those cases it may be more a matter of pure self-interest than intelligence. However, on the whole it strikes me as fairly obvious that the majority of exceptionally intelligent individuals are more open-minded and progressive in their thinking. That's because one cannot learn new things without being open-minded. The fundamentalist Christian, for instance, is much less likely to study and learn about other religions than someone who doesn't believe they already have all the answers. I think, for the most part, when you find an extremely intelligent individual clinging to backward views and close-minded values, it's because he or she is choosing to deliberately shut off questioning certain things for emotional reasons. These might include wanting to please family members, not wanting to standout among one's professional peers, deep-seated resentments against certain groups of people, or, in general, an emotional makeup characterized by low tolerance for ambiguity.

At 10:07 PM , Blogger Dee said...

Interesting and of course we all think our own ideas, values, morals, etc. are the correct ones but this intelligence connection appears to ring true to me and here's why.

(I'm a liberal *smile* so of course it does) but what I found interesting is to how it also ties in with morals and values and being willing to put oneself in the others shoes and to understand it from that perspective or to at least be open to listening.

Here's an interesting phrase often used in social psychology, Cognitive Dissonance".
Basically it's an uncomfortable state in which one refuses to believe anything that is contrary or in opposition to ones own bias and worldview. People who are exposed to other or new information that increases the dissonance (the conflict between two ideas) are likely to find it so uncomfortable they will discount that information either by ignoring it, misinterpreting it, lie about it or deny it.

Everything else is irrelevant even if it's a proveable truth or fact, (as in science) they dare not believe or even consider it, esp. if it's faith based, as it would destroy their psyche and ego or worldview.

That is where in my opinion a Liberal is 'seemingly' more intelligent and is likely to at least try to see the other side with a critical eye. (and of course is exposed to other world views by doing that).

I haven't found that to be with conservatives who are usually stuck in their own dogma to where anything different can't even be discussed.

At 3:36 PM , Blogger KingdomCome said...

Liberals aren't stuck in their own form of dogma? ...again proving the original bloggers will my post

I, too fit the bill as measured by academia...and the world. But what is that, really? Duke honors, straight A's, 4.0, 165IQ, etc. etc. etc. I've got the social experience. I've been exposed to other cultures, thoughts, religions, places and the like. I love all people. My own life experience took me from a Democratic upbringing to a liberal thinker and far back to strongly conservative, as I realized...generally speaking, of course...a liberal thinker thinks deeply -and often- as well as critically but only effectively to the degree that his or her worldliness allows real understanding, effective interpretation and meaningful depth. We can create, and invent, and "evolve" and "progress" all we wish. We will always be limited by our own faulty reasoning as we so-called progress in a worldly fashion.
To grow beyond this to a principled level requiring discipline, boundaries, acknowledgement of limitations and a recognition of something much larger than ourselves is a sign of whatever level of true intelligence we as humans are capable of.
I believe for one to reflect the highest intelligence, one should be liberal in thought, conservative in principle and practice. Today - even within these postings- it seems most believe you are one or the other. For instance, you can't possibly be Christian AND highly intelligent. Or you can't be shallow and liberal...

Intelligence is great. It is nothing without principles. Too liberal a thought reflects an unprincipled nature.

At 10:28 AM , Blogger Steven said...

All good responses even if there is disagreement.

First off, none of us are all Liberal or all Conservative. It depends on the issues that are under consideration. In addition, there is the problem with defining Liberal or Conservative attitudes and beliefs.

I consider myself a Liberal, but I give myself that label because I believe people should be allowed to live their lives as they see fit as long as it doesn't interfere too severely with others. That attitude still creates a gray area concerning the definition of "too severely" and will create a great deal of consternation as to how it's interpreted.

On the other hand, I am a Conservative regarding giving money away to the needy with getting nothing in return. It goes back to the quote, "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, but show him how to fish and he will eat for a life time." (Or something like that...)

I think what we are really speaking about are people who are closed minded and refuse to talk about and/or reject any ideas that conflict with their own. These people can still be intelligent, but for whatever reason, they can be inflexible in their acceptance of conflicting ideas, hence, "closed minded".

One of the main drivers behind being open mined or closed minded is the belief factor. Belief is an attitude not based on fact. It can have some basis in fact, but in the end, it is just a guess at the unknown.

Sometimes our beliefs are taught to us and we accept them without question. Sometimes they are derived at because we don't understand an issue and feel the need to have an answer to the question.

Then there is the problem of values. We can both understand all the aspects of an issue, but give different values (weights) toward the facts that make up this issue.

To make my point...

Whether someone can be considered more or less intelligent cannot be determined by their political viewpoint. There are other issues with the human thought processes that we can use to make this determination.

These labels that we give ourselves or used to describe us by others are totally inadequate to make the determination of intelligence.

This is a very complex subject and I'm sure everyone here understands that is cannot be fully explored on a blog site.