A provocative new study claims that more intelligent persons are more likely to become political liberals and atheists. And bright guys are more likely than dimmer chaps to value fidelity to their spouse, although that's not true for women.
The study is the work of evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Political Science, who has rattled the cage of the intelligentsia in the past, to mixed revues from his peers.
In this particular paper, published in the current issue of Social Psychology Quarterly, Kanazawa sets out to answer a question that many other researchers have found unanswerable.
"Where do individual values and preferences come from?" he asks in the opening sentence of his lengthy study. A few sentences later, he says, "there currently is no satisfactory general theory of values."
Why do we believe so strongly, sometimes with little evidence, in such things as God, or the absence thereof, or basic political philosophies that can drive otherwise calm individuals into rage and indignation?
The answer is complex, of course, if there is an answer. Our values surely stem from many things, including family traditions, culture, life experiences, and according to Kanazawa, intelligence.
Kanazawa arrived at his answer by a circuitous path. As an evolutionary psychologist, Kanazawa thought the answer could lie in how persons develop values that are different from our ancient past.
We all cling to some values, he argues, like taking care of our families, because that is part of our evolutionary history. If we hadn't, we wouldn't be here.
That led him to ask why some persons become atheists, in spite of the fact that religion has played a dominant role in all cultures throughout human history. He also asked why some persons become political liberals, which he defines as having "genuine concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated others and the willingness to contribute larger proportions of private resources for the welfare of such others."
Liberals are even willing to pay more taxes to take care of less privileged unrelated folks they may never meet, despite the fact that historically -- and evolutionarily -- humans didn't need to take care of anyone but their own kind.
To do otherwise, Kanazawa argues, is "evolutionarily novel."
He set out to find evidence that brighter folks are more likely to adopt "evolutionarily novel" values than duller folks. So he turned to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, an ongoing study involving 20,745 adolescents in 80 high schools and 52 middle schools across the United States. The kids were interviewed in their homes several times in the mid-90s, and they were given intelligence tests.
Kanazawa wasn't interested in what they thought about God or politics at that time in their young lives. What he wanted was their IQ.
Years later, when the adolescents were in their 20s, they were interviewed again, and at that time they were indeed asked about their values. By linking their answers to their performance in the IQ tests, Kanazawa came up with the support for his argument.