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Low IQ & Conservative Beliefs Linked to Prejudice

30 January 2012 Yahoo News 30 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

By Stephanie Pappas

There’s no gentle way to put it: People who give in to racism and prejudice may simply be dumb, according to a new study that is bound to stir public controversy.

The research finds that children with low intelligence are more likely to hold prejudiced attitudes as adults. These findings point to a vicious cycle, according to lead researcher Gordon Hodson, a psychologist at Brock University in Ontario. Low-intelligence adults tend to gravitate toward socially conservative ideologies, the study found. Those ideologies, in turn, stress hierarchy and resistance to change, attitudes that can contribute to prejudice, Hodson wrote in an email to LiveScience.

“Prejudice is extremely complex and multifaceted, making it critical that any factors contributing to bias are uncovered and understood,” he said.

Controversy ahead

The findings combine three hot-button topics.

“They’ve pulled off the trifecta of controversial topics,” said Brian Nosek, a social and cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia who was not involved in the study. “When one selects intelligence, political ideology and racism and looks at any of the relationships between those three variables, it’s bound to upset somebody.”

Polling data and social and political science research do show that prejudice is more common in those who hold right-wing ideals that those of other political persuasions, Nosek told LiveScience. [7 Thoughts That Are Bad For You]

“The unique contribution here is trying to make some progress on the most challenging aspect of this,” Nosek said, referring to the new study. “It’s not that a relationship like that exists, but why it exists.”

Brains and bias

Earlier studies have found links between low levels of education and higher levels of prejudice, Hodson said, so studying intelligence seemed a logical next step. The researchers turned to two studies of citizens in the United Kingdom, one that has followed babies since their births in March 1958, and another that did the same for babies born in April 1970. The children in the studies had their intelligence assessed at age 10 or 11; as adults ages 30 or 33, their levels of social conservatismand racism were measured. [Life’s Extremes: Democrat vs. Republican]

In the first study, verbal and nonverbal intelligence was measured using tests that asked people to find similarities and differences between words, shapes and symbols. The second study measured cognitive abilities in four ways, including number recall, shape-drawing tasks, defining words and identifying patterns and similarities among words. Average IQ is set at 100.

Social conservatives were defined as people who agreed with a laundry list of statements such as “Family life suffers if mum is working full-time,” and “Schools should teach children to obey authority.” Attitudes toward other races were captured by measuring agreement with statements such as “I wouldn’t mind working with people from other races.” (These questions measured overt prejudiced attitudes, but most people, no matter how egalitarian, do hold unconscious racial biases; Hodson’s work can’t speak to this “underground” racism.)

As suspected, low intelligence in childhood corresponded with racism in adulthood. But the factor that explained the relationship between these two variables was political: When researchers included social conservatism in the analysis, those ideologies accounted for much of the link between brains and bias.

People with lower cognitive abilities also had less contact with people of other races.

“This finding is consistent with recent research demonstrating that intergroup contact is mentally challenging and cognitively draining, and consistent with findings that contact reduces prejudice,” said Hodson, who along with his colleagues published these results online Jan. 5 in the journal Psychological Science.

A study of averages

Hodson was quick to note that the despite the link found between low intelligence and social conservatism, the researchers aren’t implying that all liberals are brilliant and all conservatives stupid. The research is a study of averages over large groups, he said.

“There are multiple examples of very bright conservatives and not-so-bright liberals, and many examples of very principled conservatives and very intolerant liberals,” Hodson said.

Nosek gave another example to illustrate the dangers of taking the findings too literally.

“We can say definitively men are taller than women on average,” he said. “But you can’t say if you take a random man and you take a random woman that the man is going to be taller. There’s plenty of overlap.”

Nonetheless, there is reason to believe that strict right-wing ideology might appeal to those who have trouble grasping the complexity of the world.

“Socially conservative ideologies tend to offer structure and order,” Hodson said, explaining why these beliefs might draw those with low intelligence. “Unfortunately, many of these features can also contribute to prejudice.”

In another study, this one in the United States, Hodson and Busseri compared 254 people with the same amount of education but different levels of ability in abstract reasoning. They found that what applies to racism may also apply to homophobia. People who were poorer at abstract reasoning were more likely to exhibit prejudice against gays. As in the U.K. citizens, a lack of contact with gays and more acceptance of right-wing authoritarianism explained the link. [5 Myths About Gay People Debunked]

Simple viewpoints

Hodson and Busseri’s explanation of their findings is reasonable, Nosek said, but it is correlational. That means the researchers didn’t conclusively prove that the low intelligence caused the later prejudice. To do that, you’d have to somehow randomly assign otherwise identical people to be smart or dumb, liberal or conservative. Those sorts of studies obviously aren’t possible.

>> Continue reading: Low IQ & Conservative Beliefs Linked to Prejudice


  1. Oh, NOW they realize this? Hasn’t anyone been paying attention to what Michelle Bachman, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Hermain Cain, Peter King, Glenn Beck, Robert Spencer, Geert Wilders and Pamela Geller have been saying for the last two years??? O_______O

  2. Anytime muslims are presented with a mirror image of their own hatred of others, they immediately realize it is bad. Ooo, discrimination!

  3. What of High IQ and Conservative beliefs? I know of quite a number of conservatives among Christianity who are on good terms with Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists.

  4. Perhaps he/she (sorry idk) meant that those who are prejudiced, are dumb. Not those that are Conservative?

  5. so what does that make a majority of Muslims in say idk pakistan that hate americans?

  6. Isa. The study’s (there are several) show a correlation between low IQ and conservatism to the likelihood of being prejudiced. So a smart conservative is less likely to be prejudiced, but more likely than a liberal.

  7. If you have a low IQ along with conservatives beliefs, you are most likely a racist too. Geez people, do I really have to explain it?

  8. or majority of those zionists who hates all Gentiles around the world …

  9. *whoo* my mom, dad, and aunts/uncles could tell some TALES that fit that image!!

  10. however, racism is still shorthand for a structural, “trans-personal” social reality that does not necessarily coincide with individual, psychological racial prejudices or attitudes 😉

  11. @Michael didn’t anyone explain to you that two wrongs don’t make a right?

  12. What a moronic title.

    In fact “belief” is related to “prejudice”.

    Every human brain that is fully functional pre-judges. An intelligent mind doesn’t stop there, however.

    To say that “conservative beliefs” are somehow connected to low IQ (and I say this as someone who is not conservative) is an affront to the very conservative belief system that is Islam.

    And that a title such as this one would appear on a blog called “Islamophobia Today”… does anyone else see the irony?

    Low IQ and an inability to recognize irony are in fact related 😉


    Eric Allen Bell

  13. duh

  14. @ Michael, no one in Pakistan or anywhere in the Muslim world hate Americans. As Americans, we are paranoid and we bring trouble to ourselves when we interfere in others business and affairs. Sometimes our intentions are good but we screw-up and sometimes our intentions are plain evil.

  15. @ Michael You just proved this study 😉 lols …No one in Pakistan “hate” Americans…why would they? Duhhhh …They hate American POLICY with which they disagree with. I mean C’mon now !!!

  16. no one group/people/religion has a monopoly on bigotry and hate. its a universal human trait found amongst those with a deficit of education and an abundance of fear.

  17. I dont think its an absolute thing this correlation between low IQ and conservatives who are prejudiced. Its never just black & white there is always grey shades in between.

  18. …’twas ever thus.

  19. I know people with master degrees that are prejudiced. I think prejudice is a learned behavior and while I believe it is not intelligent to have prejudices, I don’t think intelligence enters into the decision to be prejudiced.

  20. Well……duh!

  21. I know people with PhDs who aren’t that bright. I think there is something to this.

  22. Prejudice is rooted in ignorance. Ignorance is rooted in misinformation,fear & hate! Hate lives in a dead soul!

  23. I’ve always said that I’ve never personally known and intelligent racist.

  24. A person would have to have a low IQ to believe this trash, as attitudes toward classes of people vary based not only upon race but upon income. How many of our very rich and well educated citizens look down upon the masses of people with contempt. I will not go into it in detail as there is no point but articles, such as this, are nothing more than self serving.

  25. This is believable since I have always believed that prejudice stems from ignorance.

  26. Read the whole article, people and absorb it before rushing to comment.

    The lower the IQ and lower deductive reasoning statistically leads to individuals with the inability to understand complex social and cultural norms. In short, they need hard-lined and rigid social values. In the case of the United States this is represented in some social extremists.

    In other parts of the world, other extremist and rigid ideals (such as those supported by the Taliban, al-Qaeda, the LRA in Uganda, etc) cause their own share of problems resulting in hatred of those outside of those ideologies.

  27. cannot help myself. bwaaaahaaaahaaa

  28. Look at south Carolina, they are lowest in education and highest in racism. That’s why Newt won the Republican primary he’s the biggest bigot in the bunch.

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