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Old 02-25-2009, 01:11 AM   #52
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Join Date: May 2002
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Conservatism and Intelligence

What follows are brief excerpts from an article in-press and my own commentary, which describes the negative correlation between intelligence and conservative beliefs. I cited the article elsewhere in this thread, but I'll include the citation at the end of this post.

I can't post the entire article here due to Fair Use restrictions, but you should be able to find the journal Intelligence at your local university library or online via your local public library's internet access. You should even be able to order it via your public/uni library through the Inter Library Loan (I'll try to include the DOI to make this easier)

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.
The abstract gives an overview of the hypotheses of the author, which is that there is a negative correlation between conservatism and cognitive ability. That is to say, the more cognitively capable a person is, the less likely they are to be conservative.

In this abstract, you can also get a sense of the methodology used, which includes a sampling of 2854 people (n=2854), including 1254 community college students and 1600 foreign students. What was evaluated for cognitive ability were SAT scores, etc. (see the abstract).

More on methodology
To rate conservatism, the author drew on successful survey questions from other research that was able to establish levels of conservatism through the use of scaling questions with answers (like strongly and completely disagree to strongly and completely disagree).

Questions rated the degree to which an individual subscribes to conventional religious beliefs, the degree to which an individual subscribes to various justifications of self interest; the degree to which an individual subscribes to patriotism, consitutionalism, humanism, existentialism, neoliberalism, and functionalism; and the degree to which an individual subscribes to subjective experiences (paranormal experiences, personal mysticism, etc.).

Example statements (to which the respondent chose the degree to which they agreed or disagreed) were: "religion should play hte most important role in civil affairs;" "worldly possessions are the greatest good in life;" "I love and am devoted to my country;" and "some objects have magical powers."

The results showed a negative correlation between conservatism and cognitive ability:
Overall, both IQ and Conservatism are important in assessingthe country's economic and political status, with Conservatism showing a somewhat better predictive validity. Again, I wish to refrain from making causal inferences. All that can be said from the data at hand is that two psychological variables — cognitive ability (or IQ) and Conservative syndrome — appear to form a nexus with demographic, economic, sociological, health and political/legal variables at the country level of analysis.
The author describes "conservatism" thus:
The Conservative syndrome
describes a person who attaches particular importance to the respect of tradition, humility, devoutness and moderation as well as to obedience, self-discipline and politeness, social order, family, and national security and has a sense of belonging to and a pride in a group with which he or she identifies. A Conservative person also subscribes to conventional religious
beliefs and accepts the mystical, including paranormal, experiences. The same person is likely to be less open to intellectual challenges and will be seen as a responsible “good citizen” at work and in the society while expressing rather harsh views toward those outside his or her group. Our data
also show that countries differ along similar albeit somewhat broader dimensions of Conservatism. This paragraph's description of the Conservative syndrome is a narrative listing of psychological processes captured by the scales and items that define Conservatism factor in this and other studies of ours.
In his final concluding remarks, the author notes that he makes no attempt to speak to the causes of the results. He raises several questions: does IQ (cognitive ability) influence individuals' decisions to be conservative, or does conservatism influence one's IQ?

If anyone is interested, I'll also give a similar treatment to one of the other studies, the Nyborg study on intelligence and religiosity perhaps. I thought about adding it to this post, but I'm tired and have a full day tomorrow.

By the way, Nyborg is a researcher at the University of Aarhus in Denmark. Stankov is at the National Institute of Education in Singapore.


Stankov, L., (2009). Conservatism and cognitive ability, Intelligence , doi:10.1016/j.intell.2008.12.007

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