Economic Predispositions?

Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences
John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, and John R. Alford
Kindle Locations 1295-1332

Classical economic theory has very precise predictions about what you will do with the money. In the dictator game you will not give the stranger anything. Why should you, since you will probably never see him or her again? The rational thing to do is to maximize your benefit and that means holding onto the fistful of dollar bills. You cannot be similarly Scrooge-like in the ultimatum game, though, because the stranger has a veto. Give the stranger nothing and you are likely to get nothing. The problem is how much to give. Economic theory predicts that you will give the least amount required to avoid a veto. If you are holding 20 one-dollar bills, that amounts to a measly dollar. Here’s the logic: Walking away with a dollar is better than walking away with nothing, so a dollar should be enough to prevent a rational stranger from exercising a veto.

These sorts of games have been repeated thousands of times in an amazing variety of contexts, and with an amazing variety of twists and minor modifications. The clear message from all this research— a message that is surprising only to economists— is that classical economic theory stinks at predicting how people will divide their 20 dollars. People are wildly more generous to strangers than they need to be. The average amount passed along in a dictator game is not zero but rather about $ 8 of the $ 20; in other words, pretty close to an even split and way more than rational maximizing behavior would suggest.

The results of ultimatum games are even more interesting. Remember, a rational person should accept any positive amount because one dollar is more than no dollars. In reality it is very common for small offers to be rejected. If you keep $ 19 and offer just $ 1, many strangers will exercise their veto and your 19 bucks will go poof. Splits of $ 18– $ 2, $ 17– $ 3, $ 16– $ 4 also are frequently turned down; even $ 15– $ 5 splits are occasionally nixed. What all this tells us is that people routinely deviate from rationality in order to be generous to a powerless stranger or to stick it to a greedy bastard. These findings probably are not big news to you but they create serious problems for the theory that humans are rational maximizing actors because, well, they don’t seem to act very rationally.

This basic message stays the same even when researchers tinker with the setting or format of the basic script. These games have been played in Siberia, in Western universities, and in hunter-gatherer societies. 3 The stakes of the games have been altered by taking them to regions of the world where $ 20 is the equivalent of several months’ wages. 4 The $ 20 has been described as a blind (an unseen resource) or a pot rather than as a fund belonging to the divider. 5 The physical attractiveness of the “stranger” has been altered. 6 And the “stranger” has been rendered less strange by altering the extent to which the players know each other. 7 These changes make a difference, driving non-maximizing behavior up or down, but none alters the basic conclusion that people are not the single-minded pursuers of profit that economic theory holds them out to be.

Just as Milgram’s results are presented as indicating that people are subservient to authority, the divide the dollar outcomes are presented as evidence that people are irrational; and just as the common interpretation of Milgram’s research is mistaken, so too is the common interpretation of the research on economic games. A closer look at the game results indicates tremendous individual variation in the decisions people make— even when the locale and experimental manipulations are the same . Some people are simply more generous than other people; some are more punitive; some are more strategic; some are more consistent; and some are more sensitive to the setting.

A significant minority of people— our best guess is around 20 percent— play economic games in a manner that is quite consistent with classic microeconomic theory in that they do not share unless they have to and they do not punish those who do not share with them . Others are relentlessly generous and the decisions of still others are variable and contingent upon context. The common conclusion growing out of the economic games research— that people are not rational maximizers— badly misses the point. Whether the topic is obeying authority figures or sharing resources with strangers, the real message of empirical research on human behavior is that people are fundamentally different. “People” are not lemmings in the face of authority— but some are. “People” are not rational maximizers —but some are.

Kindle Locations 1344-1361

Milgram’s focus on the situation as the key explanation of behavior and his abject indifference to behavioral variation within the same situation is disconcertingly typical of social science research. As an illustration of the value that could be added if this research tendency were altered, consider a fascinating study conducted some time ago by economist Kevin McCabe and colleagues. They had participants play a variant of divide the dollar games called a “trust” game while their brains were being imaged. The twist in this case was that players sometimes interacted with another human being and sometimes with a computer that was programmed to follow a preset sequence. McCabe found that people’s brain activation patterns are quite different in these two situations.

Told they are playing a computer, little activity registered in the emotional (or limbic) areas of the brain or in the prefrontal cortex of participants. In this situation the brain appears to be on autopilot, doing nothing more than calculating the way to get the most money (in other words, to be rational). Against a human being, in contrast, limbic areas such as the amygdala are activated, as is the prefrontal cortex, which presumably must resolve the conflict created by the rational desire to acquire more money and the emotional feelings that might accompany an exchange situation. 9

If it ended there, this research would be another example of the kind of approach that we are cautioning against: general statements that “people” display different brain activation patterns depending on the situation. This particular study, however , has a feature that illustrates the value of looking at individual differences. When the five most uncooperative individuals , as determined by the decisions they made in earlier economic games, were observed in the scanner, their brain activation patterns, unlike other participants, tended to be no different when they were playing against another human being than when they were playing against a computer. Thus, at least some people appear to be surprisingly devoid of the emotional responses that typically accompany human interaction. 10

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Classical economic theory is in much the same boat. We have already noted this theory’s spectacularly inaccurate predictions with regard to various divide the dollar games. Classical microeconomic theory ends up in the same situational place as behaviorism and gets there much faster than evolutionary psychology. This is because it, too , is built on a worldview of presumed human universality, specifically humans as preference-maximizing machines. We might prefer beer and you might prefer wine, but the reasons we have different preferences is not of interest to most economists. They are more excited by the presumed universal process people employ to maximize those preferences in a given situation (rational utility maximization, as it’s called in the trade).

Classical economists rarely recognize the relevance of behavioral morphs. While psychologists study introverts and extroverts and political scientists study liberals and conservatives, economists have no parallel widely accepted terms that are indicative of fundamental economic types. 22 The situation determines what people need to do to maximize preferences so there is no need to worry about the fiddle-faddle of people having different preferences in the same situation. Preferences are taken as given (in other words, assumed away), and when deciding what to do, it is assumed that all humans crank through a universal cost-benefit calculation. The perceived pros and cons in that calculation are determined not by variation in personality, or neural architecture, or cognitive processing styles, but by the situation. As Dennis Mueller wisely notes, “homo economicus … bears a close resemblance to Skinner’s rat.” 23 The point is that broad swathes of the most prominent social science theories are based on the assumption that the human condition is monolithic and that any variations in human behavior are exclusively the product of the situation. The problem with this assertion is that it is simply not true.

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At least among males , the more buff you are, the more likely you are to push strongly for positions that further your own economic interest (socialistic redistribution if you are poor; laissez-faire capitalism if you are rich). 44

Kindle Locations 4567-4577

We believe that traits such as orientation toward out-groups, openness to new experiences, and a heightened negativity bias fit more naturally with social than economic issues, and we tend to agree with Congressman Weaver that economic positions are typically secondary. He points out that “ethnocentrics do not give a fig for individual rights” and sees the connection between conservatism and free market principles as a relatively recent development. Similarly , he does not view Marxism as connecting to the deeper forces shaping empathics and believes that accounts that do make this connection “totally ignore our biological origins.” 55 The deep forces that shape political predispositions likely do not act directly on controversies over the role of government in society (after all, for how long in evolutionary time has the size of government been an issue?) or, relatedly, on controversies over the glories of the free market relative to the social welfare state. But if the issue becomes whether or not to open up a country’s social welfare system to recent or future out-group members (that is, immigrants ), deeper forces quickly come into play. Economic issues are certainly crucial in modern politics—sometimes the most crucial— but this does not mean fault lines on these issues are as biologically rooted as social issues.


Political Appetitions


n. Desire; a longing for, or seeking after, something.

From Latin appetītiō (“a longing for or desire”).

Leibniz’s Philosophy of Mind
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Appetitions are explained as “tendencies from one perception to another” (Principles of Nature and Grace, sec.2 (1714)). Thus, we represent the world in our perceptions, and these representations are linked with an internal principle of activity and change (Monadology, sec.15 (1714)) which, in its expression in appetitions, urges us ever onward in the constantly changing flow of mental life. More technically explained, the principle of action, that is, the primitive force which is our essence, expresses itself in momentary derivative forces involving two aspects: on the one hand, there is a representative aspect (perception), by which that the many without are expressed within the one, the simple substance; on the other, there is a dynamical aspect, a tendency or striving towards new perceptions, which inclines us to change our representative state, to move towards new perceptions. (See Carlin 2004.)

Leibniz: truth, knowledge and metaphysics
Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

This is the famous doctrine of unconscious perceptions. Here it is helpful to recall Leibniz’s hierarchical arrangement of monads. All monads perceive, but they differ vastly in terms of the quality of their perceptions. Human minds or spirits are distinguished not only by reason but also by ‘apperception’ which means consciousness or perhaps even selfconsciousness. But though Leibniz holds that human minds are set apart from lower monads by their capacity for (self)-conscious awareness, he further believes that they also have unconscious or little perceptions (petites perceptions); such perceptions are little because they are low in intensity. Not merely do large stretches of our mental life consist wholly in little perceptions, but even conscious mental states are composed of such perceptions. The doctrine of unconscious perceptions is perhaps Leibniz’s principal innovation in psychology, and it is of course profoundly anti-Cartesian in its implications. For Descartes subscribes to the view that the mind is transparent to itself; he is explicit that there is nothing in the mind of which we are not conscious.80 In the New Essays on Human Understanding, his reply to Locke, Leibniz remarks that there are ‘thousands of indications’ in favour of unconscious perceptions.81

Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences
By John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, and John R. Alford
Kindle Locations 429-488

People are not fully conscious of their predispositions. Gottfried Leibniz, a seventeeth-century mathematician and scientist, called them “appetitions” and argued that, though unconscious , appetitions drive human actions. His ideas so troubled Descartes-addled Enlightenment minds that they were not published until well after Leibniz’s death. Even then, they were not taken seriously for a long time. Recent science, though, is fully on board with Leibniz’s ideas and is providing ever -increasing evidence that people grossly overestimate the role in their decisions of rational, conscious thought , just as they grossly overestimate the extent to which sensory input is objective.

Neuroscientist David Eagleman goes so far as to claim that “the brain is properly thought of as a mostly closed system that runs on its own internally generated activity … internal data is not generated by external sensory data but merely modulated by it.” 14 Noting that people often do things because of forces of which they are not aware and then produce a bogus reason for these actions after the fact, Stephen Pinker refers to the portion of the brain involved in constructing this post hoc narrative as the “baloney generator.” 15 The baloney generator is so effective that people believe they know the reasons for their actions and beliefs even when these reasons are inaccurate and patently untrue. 16

Need examples of physiology affecting attitudes and behavior, even when people think they are being rational? Consider this: Job applicant resumes reviewed on heavy clipboards are judged more worthy than identical resumes on lighter clipboards; holding a warm or hot drink can influence whether opinions of other people are positive or negative; when people reach out to pick up an orange while smelling strawberries they unwittingly spread their fingers less widely— as if they were picking up a strawberry rather than an orange. 17 People sitting in a messy, smelly room tend to make harsher moral judgments than those who are in a neutral room; disgusting ambient odors also increase expressed dislike of gay men. 18 Judges’ sentencing practices are measurably more lenient when they are fresh and haven’t just dealt with a string of prior cases. 19 Sitting on a hard, uncomfortable chair leads people to be less flexible in their stances than if they are seated on a soft , comfortable chair, and people reminded of physical cleansing, perhaps by being located near a hand sanitizer, are more likely to render stern judgments than those who were not given such a reminder. 20 People even can be made to change their moral judgments as a result of hypnotic suggestion. 21

In all these cases the baloney generator can produce a convincing case that the pertinent decision was made on the merits rather than as a result of irrelevant factors. People actively deny that a chunky clipboard has anything to do with their assessment of job applicants or that a funky odor has anything to do with their moral judgments. Judges certainly refuse to believe that the length of time since their last break has anything to do with their sentencing decisions; after all, they are meting out objective justice . Leibniz was right, though, and the baloney generator is full of it. The way we respond—biologically, physiologically, and in many cases unwittingly— to our environments influences attitudes and behavior. People much prefer to believe, however , that their decisions and opinions are rational rather than rationalized.

This desire to believe we are rational is certainly in effect when it comes to politics, where an unwillingness to acknowledge the role of extraneous forces of which we may not even be aware is especially strong. Many pretend that politics is a product of citizens taking their civic obligations seriously, sifting through political messages and information, and then carefully and deliberately considering the candidates and issue positions before making a consciously informed decision. Doubtful. In truth, people’s political judgments are affected by all kinds of factors they assume to be wholly irrelevant.

Compared to people (not just judges) with full stomachs, those who have not eaten for several hours are more sympathetic to the plight of welfare recipients. 22 Americans whose polling place happens to be a church are more likely to vote for right-of-center candidates and ideas than those whose polling place is a public school. 23 People are more likely to accept the realities of global warming if their air conditioning is broken. 24 Italians insisting they were neutral in the lead-up to a referendum on expanding a U.S . military base, but who implicitly associated pictures of the base with negative terms, were more likely to vote against the referendum; in other words, people who genuinely believed themselves to be undecided were not. 25 People shown a cartoon happy face for just a few milliseconds (too quick to register consciously) list fewer arguments against immigration than those individuals who were shown a frowning cartoon face. 26 Political views are influenced not only by forces believed to be irrelevant but by forces that have not entered into conscious awareness. People think they know the reasons they vote for the candidates they do or espouse particular political positions or beliefs, but there is at least a slice of baloney in that thinking.

Responses to political stimuli are animated by emotional and not always conscious bodily processes. Political scientist Milt Lodge studies “hot cognition” or “automaticity.” His research shows that people tag familiar objects and concepts with an emotional response and that political stimuli such as a picture of Sarah Palin or the word “Obamacare” are particularly likely to generate emotional or affective (and therefore physiologically detectable) responses. In fact, Lodge and his colleague Charles Taber claim that “all political leaders, groups, issues, symbols, and ideas previously thought about and evaluated in the past become affectively charged— positively or negatively.” 27 Responses to a range of individual concepts and objects frequently become integrated in a network that can be thought of as the tangible manifestation of a broader political ideology.

The fact that extraneous forces that may not have crossed the threshold of awareness (sometimes called sub-threshold) shape political orientations and actions makes it possible for individual variation in nonpolitical variables to affect politics. If hotter ambient temperatures in a room increase acceptance of global warming, maybe people whose internal thermostats incline them to feeling hot are also more likely to be accepting of global warming. Likewise, sensitivity to clutter and disorder, to smell, to disgust, and to threats becomes potentially relevant to political views. Since elements of these sensitivities often are outside of conscious awareness, it becomes possible that political views are shaped by psychological and physiological patterns.

To Unfurl the Flag of Liberalism

I have a conjecture about liberalism and conservatism. My speculation is about the psychological side of things, moreso than the political.

As I’ve often pointed out, liberals are prone to conservative-mindedness when under conditions of social stress or cognitive overload (here is the most recent post on the topic). But not all liberals seem to be prone to this and maybe under normal conditions most liberals aren’t prone to it.

I’m not sure. I just know there is something in liberal psychology that makes this a very real possibility. The examples of it in politics can be seen all the time, especially during times like these when conditions are far from perfect for the liberal predisposition. Then again, when are conditions ever perfect for or much in the way of being conducive to the liberal predisposition?

Liberals rarely if ever get the opportunity to fully be themselves, to let their liberal flag wave fully unfurled.

My thoughts relate to the issue of fear. Some studies have shown conservatives have a larger part of the brain that deals with fear. What I was wondering is if there are different kinds of fear, not all kinds being labeled fear as such. Some of these kinds of ‘fear’ might be more relevant to the liberal mindset.

Let me use an example to clarify one possibility. There is often an inverse relationship between homicide and suicide. It has been theorized that this is based on whether anger and aggression is turned outward or inward. Similarly, maybe there is a difference between fear turned outward or inward, the latter experienced as anxiety or in other ways.

I suffer from social anxiety, though the emphasis is more on the anxiety part. There is a lot of fear involved, but it is very internalized. I don’t project my fears onto outside factors or people so much, at least not in any specific way. I don’t fear other countries, cultures, ethnicities, religions, etc. I’m a typical liberal in that sense. At the same time, I have tons of internalized fears that express as anxieties, doubts and guilt.

When I look at conservative-minded liberals, what I see is liberalism turning on itself. Such people seem to let their doubts of liberalism get the better of themselves. That is one of the things that liberals seem really good at: doubt. It can be quite undermining and self-destructive, especially in movement politics and party politics, but also on a personal level.

Liberals don’t have the kind of righteous certainty and proud confidence that is more common among conservatives. Liberals not only have endless doubts, but we’re talented at rationalizing our doubts. We have as many good reasons to doubt as conservatives have to believe. Liberals tend to approach things more indirectly, like a fox circling around and around then backtracking and then circling around some more. This hedging-your-bets mentality has its benefits in that it moderates extremes and allows for a carefulness that dampens arrogance and zeal. Also, it is a stumbling block.

Many liberals seem afraid of being caught up in radicalism or even getting called radical. Liberals are sensitive. We don’t want our feelings hurt and we don’t want to hurt the feelings of others. We just want everyone to get along. Direct confrontation seems dangerous, and maybe for good reason. Conservatives do seem better at winning that game. So, why should liberals play into their own weakness?

I’m wondering about this because I want a liberalism that can win, not simply not lose. I want a fighting liberalism of the variety seen expressed by Thomas Paine and Martin Luther King jr, a liberalism not afraid of a few bruises or hurt feelings. Liberalism can express strongly at times for certain liberals, but it sure is rare.

Why is that? Is it just fear? Or is there something else going on here?

What Scientific Idea Is Ready For Retirement?

This is a question asked by They ask a different question each year and that is the question this year, 2014. Several of the responses fit into my recent thinking about human nature, race, genetics, intelligence, behavior, scientific methodology, etc..

* * * *

Biological Anthropologist and Paleobiologist; Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at The Pennsylvania State University

“Race has a hold on history, but it no longer has a place in science. The sheer instability and potential for misinterpretation render race useless as a scientific concept. Inventing new vocabularies of human diversity and inequity won’t be easy, but is necessary. ”

Senior Lecturer in Behavioural Biology School, University of Bristol
Life Evolves Via A Shared Genetic Toolkit

“A conserved genome can generate novelties through rearrangements (within or between genes), changes in regulation or genome duplication events. For example, the vertebrate genome has been replicated in their entirety twice in their evolutionary history; salmonid fish have undergone a further two whole genome duplications. Duplications reduce selection on the function of one of the gene copies, allowing that copy to mutate and evolve into a new gene whilst the other copy maintains business as usual. Conserved genomes can also harbour a lot of latent genetic variation—fodder for evolving novelty—which is not exposed to selection. Non-lethal variation can lie dormant in the genome by not being expressed, or by being expressed at times when it doesn’t have a lethal effect on the phenotype. The molecular machinery that regulates expression of genes and proteins depends on minimal information, rules and tools: transcription factors recognise sequences of only a few base-pairs as binding sites, which gives them enormous potential for plasticity in where they bind. Pleiotropic changes across many conserved genes using different combination of transcription, translation and/or post-translation activity are a good source of genomic novelty. E.g. the evolution of beak shapes in Darwin’s finches is controlled by pleiotropic changes brought about by changes in the signalling patterns of a conserved gene that controls bone development. The combinatorial power of even a limited genetic toolkit gives it enormous potential to evolve novelty from old machinery.”

Journalist; Author, Us and Them
People Are Sheep

“Perhaps the behavior of people in groups will eventually be explained as a combination of moment-to-moment influences (like waves on the sea) and powerful drivers that work outside of awareness (like deep ocean currents). All the open questions are important and fascinating. But they’re only visible after we give up the simplistic notion that we are sheep.”

founder and president of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute
Large Randomized Controlled Trials

“We need new, more thoughtful experimental designs and systems approaches that take into account these issues. Also, new genomic insights will make it possible to better understand individual variations to treatment rather than hoping that this variability will be “averaged out” by randomly-assigning patients.”

Psychiatrist; Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine
Neuroscientist; Canada Research Chair in Philosophy & Psychiatry, McGill University
Mental Illness is Nothing But Brain Illness

“That a theory of mental illness should make reference to the world outside the brain is no more surprising than that the theory of cancer has to make reference to cigarette smoke. And yet what is commonplace in cancer research is radical in psychiatry. The time has come to expand the biological model of psychiatric disorder to include the context in which the brain functions. In understanding, preventing and treating mental illness, we will rightly continue to look into the neurons and DNA of the afflicted and unafflicted. To ignore the world around them would be not only bad medicine but bad science.”

Assistant Professor of Psychology, Stanford University
The Altruism Hierarchy

“It often appears to me that critics of “impure” altruism chide helpers for acting in human ways, for instance by doing things that feel good. The ideal, then, seems to entail acting altruistically while not enjoying those actions one bit. To me, this is no ideal at all. I think it’s profound and downright beautiful to think that our core emotional makeup can be tuned towards others, causing us to feel good when we do. Color me selfish, but I’d take that impure altruism over a de-enervated, floating ideal any day.”

Eugene Higgins Professor, Department of Psychology, Princeton University
Rational Actor Models: The Competence Corollary

“People are most effective in social life if we are—and show ourselves to be—both warm and competent. This is not to say that we always get it right, but the intent and the effort must be there. This is also not to say that love is enough, because we do have to prove capable to act on our worthy intentions. The warmth-competence combination supports both short-term cooperation and long-term loyalty. In the end, it’s time to recognize that people survive and thrive with both heart and mind.”

Scientist; Inventor; Entrepreneur
Intelligence As a Property

“Based on recent discoveries, I have now come to suspect that the reason for this lack of progress in physically defining intelligence is due to the entire scientific concept of treating intelligence as a static property—rather than a dynamical process—being ready for retirement.

Science Writer; Consultant; Lecturer, Copenhagen; Author, The Generous Man

“But then this concept is rooted in the notion that human beings (and animals) are really dominated by selfishness and egoism so that you need a concept to explain why they sometimes behave unselfish and kind to others.

“But the reality is different: Humans are deeply bound to other humans and most actions are really reciprocal and in the interest of both parties (or, in he case of hatred, in the disinterest of both). The starting point is neither selfishness nor altruism, but the state of being bound together. It is an illusion to believe that you can be happy when no one else is. Or that other people will not be affected by your unhappiness.

“Behavioral science and neurobiology has shown how intimately we are bound: Phenomena like mimicry, emotional contagion, empathy, sympathy, compassion and prosocial behavior are evident in humans and animals. We are influenced by the well-being of others in more ways than we normally care to think of. Therefore a simple rules applies: Everyone feels better when you are well. Your feel better when everyone is well.

“This correlated state is the real one. The ideas of egoism and hence its opposite concept altruism are second-order concepts, shadows or even illusions.”

Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair in Developmental Psychology, University of British Columbia
Moral Blank State-ism

“Again, experience matters. Several studies have now documented that experience may influence moral outcomes via a “gene-environment interaction.” That is, rather than a simple equation in which, say, adverse experiences lead to antisocial children: [child + abuse – ameliorating experiences = violence], the relationship between abuse and antisocial behavior is only observed in children with particular versions of various genes known to regulate certain social hormones. That is, whether they have been abused or not, children with the “safe” gene alleles are all about equally (un)likely to engage in antisocial behavior. Children with the “at risk” alleles, on the other hand, are more susceptible to the damages of abuse.”

Associate Professor of Psychology, Director, NYU Infant Cognition and Communication Lab, New York University
Natural Selection is the Only Engine of Evolution

“These findings fit in a relatively new field of study called epigenetics. Epigenetic control of gene expression contributes to cells in a single organism (which share the same DNA sequence) developing differently into e.g. heart cells or neurons. But the last decade has shown actual evidence–and possible mechanisms–for how the environment and the organism’s behavior in it might cause heritable changes in gene expression (with no change in the DNA sequence) that are passed onto offspring. In recent years, we have seen evidence of epigenetic inheritance across a wide range of morphological, metabolic, and even behavioral traits.

“The intergenerational transmission of acquired traits is making a comeback as a potential mechanism of evolution. It also opens up the interesting possibility that better diet, exercise, and education which we thought couldn’t affect the next generation–except with luck through good example–actually could.”

Philosopher; Director, Scientific Vortex, Inc
Crime is Only About The Actions Of Individuals

“Despite the significant role of these “gray” actors, social scientists interested in analyzing crime usually focus their attention only on criminal individuals and criminal actions. Those scientists usually study crime through qualitative and quantitative data that informs only of those “dark” elements, while omitting the fact that transnational and domestic crime is carried out by various types of actors who don’t interact solely through criminal actions. This is a hyper-simplified approach—a caricature—because those “dark” elements are only the tip of the iceberg regarding global crime.

“This simplified approach also assumes that society is a digital and binary system in which the “good” and the “bad” guys—the “us” and “them”—are perfectly distinguishable. This distinction is useful in penal terms when simple algorithms—”if individual X executes the action Y, then X is criminal”—orient the decision of judges delivering final sentences. However, in sociological, anthropological, and psychological terms, this line is more difficult to define. If society is a digital system, it is certainly not a binary one.”

Psychologist, Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University; Author, The Science of Evil
Radical Behaviorism

“My scientific reason for arguing for Radical Behaviorism should be retired is not to revisit the now stale nature-nurture debate (all reasonable scientists recognize an organism’s behavior is the result of an interaction of these), but rather because Radical Behaviorism is scientifically uninformative. Behavior by definition is the surface level, so it follows that the same piece of behavior could be the result of different underlying cognitive strategies, different underlying neural systems, and even different underlying causal pathways. Two individuals can show the same behavior but can have arrived at it through very different underlying causal routes. Think of a native speaker of English vs. someone who has acquired total fluency of English as a second language; or think of a person who is charmingly polite because they are genuinely considerate to others, vs. a psychopath who has learnt how to flawlessly perform being charmingly polite. Identical behavior, produced via different routes. Without reference to underlying cognition, neural activity, and causal mechanisms, behavior is scientifically uninformative.”

Information Scientist and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Law, the University of Southern California; Author, Noise
Statistical Independence

“The world is massively interconnected through causal chains. Gravity alone causally connects all objects with mass. The world is even more massively correlated with itself. It is a truism that statistical correlation does not imply causality. But it is a mathematical fact that statistical independence implies no correlation at all. None. Yet events routinely correlate with one another. The whole focus of most big-data algorithms is to uncover just such correlations in ever larger data sets.

“Statistical independence also underlies most modern statistical sampling techniques. It is often part of the very definition of a random sample. It underlies the old-school confidence intervals used in political polls and in some medical studies. It even underlies the distribution-free bootstraps or simulated data sets that increasingly replace those old-school techniques.”

Distinguished Professor of Philosophy & Cognitive Science, Rutgers University
“Our” Intuitions

“About a decade ago, this question led a group of philosophers, along with sympathetic colleagues in psychology and anthropology, to stop assuming that their intuitions were widely shared and design studies to see if they really are. In study after study, it turned out that philosophical intuitions do indeed vary with culture and other demographic variables. A great deal more work will be needed before we have definitive answers about which philosophical intuitions vary, and which, if any, are universal.”

Physicist, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“You probably already knew that naïve reductionism is often too simplistic. However, there is another point. It’s not just that you are composite, something you already knew, but you are in some senses not even human. You have perhaps a hundred trillion bacterial cells in your body, numbering ten times more than your human cells, and containing a hundred times as many genes as your human cells. These bacteria are not just passive occupants of the zoo that is you. They self-organize into communities within your mouth, guts and elsewhere; and these communities—microbiomes—are maintained by varied, dynamic patterns of competition and cooperation between the different bacteria, which allow us to live.

“In the last few years, genomics has given us a tool to explore the microbiome by identifying microbes by their DNA sequences. The story that is emerging from these studies is not yet complete but already has led to fascinating insights. Thanks to its microbes, a baby can better digest its mother’s milk. And your ability to digest carbohydrates relies to a significant extent on enzymes that can only be made from genes not present in you, but in your microbiome. Your microbiome can be disrupted, for example due to treatment by antibiotics, and in extreme cases can be invaded by dangerous monocultures, such as Clostridium difficile, leading to your death. Perhaps the most remarkable finding is the gut-brain axis: your gastrointestinal microbiome can generate small molecules that may be able to pass through the blood-brain barrier and affect the state of your brain: although the precise mechanism is not yet clear, there is growing evidence that your microbiome may be a significant factor in mental states such as depression and autism spectrum conditions. In short, you may be a collective property arising from the close interactions of your constitutents.”

Physician and Social Scientist, Yale University; Coauthor, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives
The Average

“Yes, we can reliably say that men are taller than women, on average; that Norwegians are richer than Swedes; that first-born children are smarter than second-born children. And we can do experiments to detect tiny differences in means—between groups exposed and unexposed to a virus, or between groups with and without a particular allele of a gene. But this is too simple and too narrow a view of the natural world.

“Our focus on averages should be retired. Or, if not retired, we should give averages an extended vacation. During this vacation, we should catch up on another sort of difference between groups that has gotten short shrift: we should focus on comparing the difference in variance (which captures the spread or range of measured values) between groups.”

Physicist, Computer Scientist, Chairman of Applied Minds, Inc.; author, The Pattern on the Stone
Cause and Effect

“Unfortunately, the cause-and-effect paradigm does not just fail at the quantum scale. It also falls apart when we try to use causation to explain complex dynamical systems like the biochemical pathways of a living organism, the transactions of an economy, or the operation of the human mind. These systems all have patterns of information flow that defy our tools of storytelling. A gene does not “cause” the trait like height, or a disease like cancer. The stock market did not go up “because” the bond market went down. These are just our feeble attempts to force a storytelling framework onto systems that do not work like stories. For such complex systems, science will need more powerful explanatory tools, and we will learn to accept the limits of our old methods of storytelling. We will come to appreciate that causes and effects do not exist in nature, that they are just convenient creations of our own minds.”

Journalist; Editor, Nova 24, of Il Sole 24 Ore
The Tragedy Of The Commons

“Ostrom’s factual approach to the commons came with very good theory, too. Preconditions to the commons’ sustainability were, in Ostrom’s idea: clarity of the law, methods of collective and democratic decision-making, local and public mechanisms of conflict resolution, no conflicts with different layers of government. These preconditions do exist in many historically proven situations and there is no tragedy there. Cultures that understand the commons are contexts that make a sustainable behaviour absolutely rational.”

Anthropologist, National Center for Scientific Research, Paris; Author, Talking to the Enemy

“There is a long history of acrimonious debate over which, if any, aspects of IQ are heritable. The most compelling studies concern twins raised apart and adoptions. Twin studies rarely have large sample populations. Moreover, they often involve twins separated at birth because a parent dies or cannot afford to support both, and one is given over to be raised by relatives, friends or neighbors. This disallows ruling out the effects of social environment and upbringing in producing convergence among the twins. The chief problem with adoption studies is that the mere fact of adoption reliably increases IQ, regardless of any correlation between the IQs of the children and those of their biological parents. Nobody has the slightest causal account of how or why genes, singly or in combination, might affect IQ. I don’t think it’s because the problem is too hard, but because IQ is a specious rather natural kind.”

University Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Northeastern University; Research Scientist and Neuroscientist, Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School
Essentialist Views of the Mind

“Ridding science of essentialism is easier said than done. Consider the simplicity of this essentialist statement from the past: “Gene X causes cancer.” It sounds plausible and takes little effort to understand. Compare this to a more recent explanation: “A given individual in a given situation, who interprets that situation as stressful, may experience a change in his sympathetic nervous system that encourages certain genes to be expressed, making him vulnerable to cancer.” The latter explanation is more complicated, but more realistic. Most natural phenomena do not have a single root cause. Sciences that are still steeped in essentialism need a better model of cause and effect, new experimental methods, and new statistical procedures to counter essentialist thinking.

“This discussion is more than a bunch of metaphysical musings. Adherence to essentialism has serious, practical impacts on national security, the legal system, treatment of mental illness, the toxic effects of stress on physical illness… the list goes on. Essentialism leads to simplistic “single cause” thinking when the world is a complex place. Research suggests that children are born essentialists (what irony!) and must learn to overcome it. It’s time for all scientists to overcome it as well.”

Psychologist; Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University
Humans Are By Nature Social Animals

“At the same time, the concept of humans as “social by nature” has lent credibility to numerous significant ideas: that humans need other humans to survive, that humans tend to be perpetually ready for social interaction, and that studying specifically the social features of human functioning is profoundly important. ”

Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan; Author, Intelligence and How We Get It
Multiple Regression as a Means of Discovering Causality

“Multiple regression, like all statistical techniques based on correlation, has a severe limitation due to the fact that correlation doesn’t prove causation. And no amount of measuring of “control” variables can untangle the web of causality. What nature hath joined together, multiple regression cannot put asunder. ”

Evolutionary Biologist; Emeritus Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, Oxford; Author, The Greatest Show on Earth, The Magic of Reality

“Essentialism rears its ugly head in racial terminology. The majority of “African Americans” are of mixed race. Yet so entrenched is our essentialist mind-set, American official forms require everyone to tick one race/ethnicity box or another: no room for intermediates. A different but also pernicious point is that a person will be called “African American” even if only, say, one of his eight great grandparents was of African descent. As Lionel Tiger put it to me, we have here a reprehensible “contamination metaphor.” But I mainly want to call attention to our society’s essentialist determination to dragoon a person into one discrete category or another. We seem ill-equipped to deal mentally with a continuous spectrum of intermediates. We are still infected with the plague of Plato’s essentialism.”

Professor of Genomics, The Scripps Research Institute; Author, The Creative Destruction of Medicine
One Genome Per Individual

“But we still don’t know if this is merely of academic interest or has important disease-inducing impact. For sure the mosaicism that occurs later in life, in “terminally differentiated” cells, is known to be important in the development of cancer. And the mosaicism of immune cells, particularly lymphocytes, appears to be part of a healthy, competent immune system. Beyond this, it largely remains unclear as to the functional significance of each of us carrying multiple genomes.

“The implications are potentially big. When we do use a blood sample to evaluate a person’s genome, we have no clue about the potential mosaicism that exists throughout the individual’s body. So a lot more work needs to be done to sort this out, and now that we have the technology to do it, we’ll undoubtedly better understand our remarkable heterogeneous genomic selves in the years ahead.”

Managing Director, Digital Science, Macmillan Science & Education; Former Publishing Director,; Co-Organizer, Sci Foo
Nature Versus Nurture

“Inheritability is not the inverse of mutability, and to say that the heritability of a trait is high is not to say that the environment has no effect because heritability scores are themselves affected by the environment. Take the case of height. In the rich world, the heritability of height is something like 80 per cent. But this is only because our nutrition is universally quite good. In places where malnutrition or starvation are common, environmental factors predominate and the heritability of height is much lower.”

Psychologist, UC, Berkeley; Author, The Philosophical Baby

“All three of these scientific developments suggest that almost everything we do is not just the result of the interaction of nature and nurture, it is both simultaneously. Nurture is our nature and learning and culture are our most important and distinctive evolutionary inheritance.”

Johnstone Family Professor, Department of Psychology; Harvard University; Author, The Better Angels of Our Nature
Behavior = Genes + Environment

“Even the technical sense of “environment” used in quantitative behavioral genetics is perversely confusing. Now, there is nothing wrong with partitioning phenotypic variance into components that correlate with genetic variation (heritability) and with variation among families (“shared environment”). The problem comes from the so-called “nonshared” or “unique environmental influences.” This consists of all the variance that is attributable neither to genetic nor familiar variation. In most studies, it’s calculated as 1 – (heritability + shared environment). Practically, you can think of it as the differences between identical twins who grow up in the same home. They share their genes, parents, older and younger siblings, home, school, peers, and neighborhood. So what could make them different? Under the assumption that behavior is a product of genes plus environment, it must be something in the environment of one that is not in the environment of the other.

“But this category really should be called “miscellaneous/unknown,” because it has nothing necessarily to do with any measurable aspect of the environment, such as one sibling getting the top bunk bed and the other the bottom, or a parent unpredictably favoring one child, or one sibling getting chased by a dog, coming down with a virus, or being favored by a teacher. These influences are purely conjectural, and studies looking for them have failed to find them. The alternative is that this component actually consists of the effects of chance – new mutations, quirky prenatal effects, noise in brain development, and events in life with unpredictable effects.”

Publisher, Skeptic magazine; monthly columnist, Scientific American; Author, The Believing Brain

“So it has been and will continue to be with other forms of the hard-wired=permanent idea, such as violence. We may be hard-wired for violence, but we can attenuate it considerably through scientifically tested methods. Thus, for my test case here, I predict that in another 500 years the God-theory of causality will have fallen into disuse, and the 21st-century scientific theory that God is hardwired into our brains as a permanent feature of our species will be retired.”

Political Scientist, University Professor, University of Washington & University of Sydney
Homo Economicus

“The reliance on homo economicus as the basis of human motivation has given rise to a grand body of theory and research over the past two hundred years. As an underlying assumption, it has generated some of the best work in economics. As a foil, it has generated findings about cognitive limitations, the role of social interactions, and ethically based motivations. The power of the concept of homo economicus was once great, but its power has now waned, to be succeeded by new and better paradigms and approaches grounded in more realistic and scientific understandings of the sources of human action.”

To Not Feel, To Not Care, To Not Know

This relationship of racism and lack of empathy is sad beyond comprehension. Talk about empathy isn’t just a philosophical debate or an academic exercise. White privilege is a very real thing with real impact on real people in the real world.

One of the benefits for whites of white privilege is that people, both whites and blacks, not only take your pain more seriously but they perceive it as being greater and more real than the pain felt by blacks. Racial prejudice is internalized and becomes unconscious. It’s just there, hidden and below the surface, but the effects are real and the consequences are great

This probably relates to why jurors, both white and black, punish blacks more harshly than whites for the exact same crimes. To say someone doesn’t feel pain strongly is to imply that they are less human, less worthy. Scientists used to do dissect living and conscious animals because they believed animals didn’t feel pain.

Empathy and the lack thereof is the core issue upon which so much else pivots.

Here is the article that brought so much sadness to my thoughts:

I Don’t Feel Your Pain
A failure of empathy perpetuates racial disparities.
By Jason Silverstein

Read that article and then read a post I wrote last year:

Republicans: Party of Despair

Considering conservatives have been shown to have a less inclusive sense of empathy, is it surprising what results from when they gain political power? Or to return to the issue of white privilege, which party in recent generations has fought against civil rights and racial equality? Also, might empathy inequality be at the core of economic inequality?

It reminds me of something said by Tim Wise (see the video at the end of my post, Knowledge Doesn’t Matter). What white privilege ultimately allows is for one to be ignorant of privilege itself. It isn’t just about not feeling and not caring. It is about not even knowing, ignorance of even one’s ignorance. Complete blindness and numbness, no voice to be heard, as if the uncomfortable reality didn’t exist. Like the three monkeys with hands over ears, eyes and mouth.

IQ Dilemma: Inconvenient Correlations, Uncomfortable Data

I was having a discussion with another blogger, Staffan in his blog Staffan’s Personality Blog. His blog was recommended to me by a human biodiversity (HBD) proponent, I believe it was JayMan in a comment in HBD Chick’s blog. I commented on several of Staffan’s posts, but the longest discussion was in his post about studies on intelligence, religion and ideology.

I pointed out the numerous studies that show a correlation between liberalism and above average IQ. Staffan is unconvinced. He doesn’t like Kanazawa and so thinks criticisms of one researcher disproves all other research by other researchers, a line of reason that I don’t follow. He seems to refuse to take the other researchers seriously, even though the criticisms toward Kanazawa don’t apply toward them or their  research. It comes down to Staffan believing all psychological research is biased toward liberalism and so can be dismissed nearly out of hand.

I’ve criticized this criticism before. The conservative bias about the existence of a liberal bias seems to fall apart under scrutiny, especially the claim about psychology. But maybe I’m missing something.

There are two sets of data that are obvious and yet don’t quite connect for people like Staffan.

Most psychologists are liberal. Most scientists, most academics, most well educated people in general identify as liberals, express liberal views and support liberal policies; in particular social liberalism that most closely correlates to the liberal-minded traits such as openness. However, it doesn’t occur to Staffan to wonder why psychology attracts liberals in the first place or even why higher education in general might not just attract but encourage a liberal mindset.

Liberals, along with having above average IQs, unsurprisingly tend to be above average in education and wealth. To remove the liberal part from the equation, most people who are above average in education and wealth unsurprisingly tend to have above average IQs.

This could be explained simply from a perspective of poverty.

Poor people tend to be socially conservative and so easily swayed by the rhetoric of conservative politics in the US, and because of this not as many poor people self-identify as liberal even among the subset of the poor that tends to vote for Democrats (yes, around a third of Democrats self-identify as conservative and, surprising to some, only around a third self-identify as liberal). Poverty and poverty-related factors have been proven to inhibit cognitive development which is shown in IQ tests, and lower IQ leads to lower rates of higher education. Wealth and wealth-related factors have been proven to increase cognitive development which is shown in IQ tests, and higher IQ leads to higher rates of higher education.

All of this is well known. It’s proven in numerous studies and sets of data, both correlationally and causally.

It would be strange if the average liberal who is wealthier and more well-educated (than both the average American and the average conservative) turned out to not also have an above average IQ. That would be one of the strangest discoveries in all of social science research. What would make liberals somehow different from every other comparable group? Considering so much research shows a correlation between liberalism and higher IQs that fits the expected pattern, it would require massive alternative data and careful analysis to explain this bizarre phenomenon, if it were to exist. No such data or analysis is offered by Staffan.

Conservatives love to point out that poor blacks have lower IQs. Yet they suddenly become righteous when it is pointed out that poor conservatives also tend to have lower IQs. Conservative political correctness police are no better than their liberal counterparts. To get at the real point, poverty sucks which is something liberals have been saying for generations. But it isn’t to argue that liberals have any reason to be proud simply for being among a privileged demographic that has experienced less poverty.

The other factor that correlates to lower IQ is authoritarianism. As much research has shown, conservatives and right-wingers in the US show higher rates of authoritarianism whereas liberals and leftists in the US show lower rates of authoritarianism (and I suppose the same would be found in other liberal democracies). Once again, going by the known data, it would be logical to conclude that American conservatives with a higher average rate of authoritarianism than American liberals would have a lower average IQ than American liberals. In different societies, different correlations would be found. For example, communists in authoritarian communist countries unsurprisingly show higher rates of authoritarianism; and if it were studied, these authoritarian communists would probably have lower IQs. It would be surprising to find some other result.

As poverty sucks, so does authoritarianism. Like a good liberal, I’d love to end both of these plagues upon humanity.

Staffan’s response, once again, is that psychologists are biased liberals and so all the massive amounts of research on authoritarianism can be dismissed as biased. This verges on denialism, but Staffan doesn’t quite go down that road. He does seem to hold some basic respect for science. The problem he faces is that he can’t square all of the data with his preferred assumptions and conclusions. In our discussion, he has yet to comment on the studies I presented to him that weren’t referred to in his post. The debate can’t go on until he does.

This kind of debate can and does just go around in circles.

The interesting part to me isn’t whether the correlation exists. It is becoming increasingly convincing that we are beyond that point. We have good evidence that it exists. What interests me is why and how it exists. What might be the causation behind the correlation? Or is their any direct causal link at all? Can it be explained away by confounding factors and circumstantial conditions? Maybe it is just an artifact of the data, but considering the data is large and growing: How did such an artifact arise so consistently and pervasively in this data from our society, consistent and pervasive across decades of data sets collected by numerous researchers and other data gatherers, some of whom gathered data without expectation of later researchers finding this particular correlation?

The point being that we won’t find anything of worth if we stop at mere dismissal of the correlation. If one wishes to disprove that correlation, then more power to them. But no one yet has disproven it, much less fully explained it. There are hypotheses that have been presented to explain the correlation and these hypotheses are falsifiable. Go forth and falsify them, if you can.

This is where my frustration stops me short for I don’t know how to continue this kind of discussion. It doesn’t seem to go anywhere and frustration begins to bring out the worst in me, and I already feel like I’m being mean to Staffan who is a perfectly nice guy as far as I can tell. I don’t want to judge Staffan or people like him. I want to explore ideas and data with intellectual curiosity and hopefully intellectual humility.

Maybe I’m wrong about significant parts of my analysis. That wouldn’t surprise me. But the debate-ending response I receive just doesn’t satisfy me. Claims of liberal bias are unfair and ultimately unhelpful; I would go so far as to call them unfounded to any great extent. Each study must be taken on its own terms and not waved away with one’s hand. Is that asking too much?

I could go in more depth with my analysis, but I’ve already explained my view in Staffan’s blog. Instead of restating everything I wrote in the comments section of Staffan’s post, I’ll just offer the comments themselves below (which do repeat some of what I wrote above).

What point I’m trying to make?

I was just trying to describe the confusion of ideologies in the US. I was also trying to show how labels are in some ways arbitrary. It isn’t the label that defines the person but the person who defines the label. Liberal and conservative meant something quite different when my grandparents first was eligible to vote which isn’t that long ago in the big picture.

Liberalism used to be a very large and inclusive category. Old school Republicans like Eisenhower and Nixon would speak positively of liberalism. These days it has become a very narrow term. I don’t know if it has narrowed in definition, but it has narrowed in demographics.

Liberal as a label isn’t comparable to conservative as a label. Conservatism has become an amorphous category. If given a forced choice, most Americans will identify as conservative. But if asked about particular issues, most Americans will more often state support for liberal issues. This is what is called symbolic conservatism. So, conservatism includes both those that support the most radical of right-wing politics and those who support standard liberal politics.

As for those who identify as liberals, they are more comparable to the demographics of libertarians. Both groups are a smaller portion of the population. Both tend to be above average in wealth and education. It would be surprising, going by these demographic facts, if they weren’t above average in iQ. Wealthier, well-educated people in general tend to have higher IQ for a host of reasons as I’ve pointed out, many of which are environmental. Also, wealthier, well-educated people have more opportunities such as legacies that allow them to go to the best ivory League schools. Furthermore, both liberals and libertarians tend to be socially liberal and measure high on liberal-minded traits such as openness to experience.

So, maybe it isn’t that liberals and libertarians are inherently smarter in that these labels don’t magically confer intelligence. It’s just that because of present societal conditions the wealthier, well-educated demographic tends to identify as either liberal or libertarian. I guess you could call this an artefact, but I doubt it is because of wishful thinking.

Is there a reason you’d think people who are above average in wealth and education wouldn’t also be above average in IQ?

The tricky part, as always, is determining the reasons for the correlation and whether there is a causal link between the factors or to some other factor.

“I do actually believe people with higher education and income have higher intelligence. I just haven’t seen credible statistics that says liberals are smarter.”

The data I’ve seen shows that liberals tend to be more well educated and wealthier than the average American. College professors, college students and the college educated are disproportionately liberal. It is also known that higher education correlates to higher IQ. So, it would be bizarre if most average liberals (or libertarian) got their above average education without being above average in IQ. That would be counterintuitive and contrary to the pattern fitting other well educated groups.

There are many lower class conservatives, but because of the rhetoric since the Reagan era the lower classes have mostly stopped identifying as liberals at all. They might call themselves independents, moderates or progressives, just usually not liberal because that label has become stigmatized in the mind of the average American. As such, there would appear to be a lot less distance between the average liberal and the liberal elite than there is between the average conservative and the conservative elite.

This can be seen in the parties. Back during the Reagan administration, many moderates, independents, liberals and union members voted for Reagan and identified as Republican. It was a really broad party back then, as it had been in the decades before that as well. Surprise, surprise, the Republicans at that time had a higher average IQ than did the Democrats. Today, however, Democrats have a higher average IQ. Also, today, the Republican Party is no longer a big tent party that is inclusive of anyone other than conservatives. Why did the Republican’s average IQ go down as their rates of conservatism went up?

There is something interesting about Democrats these days. The Democratic Party is now broader than the Republican Party, even as those who identify as liberal have narrowed. Only about a third of Democrats identify as liberal, another third as moderate and the rest conservative. Minorities have lower average IQs and are more socially conservative than most Americans and at the same time they tend to vote Democrat. This mean that the non-conservative non-minority Democrats must have very high average IQs to make up the difference and still maintain the higher average IQ than Republicans.

I don’t know entirely what that might mean. I’m not a Democrat and don’t feel any need to defend them. But the data seems to confirm that something of relevance is going on.

“But those knowledge quizzes Pew do are always won by people who vote Republican. Not to say that’s the final word but there is reason to be suspicious because their is a media bias.”

There are several distinctions to be made.

Democrats aren’t the same as liberals since there are nearly as many self-identified conservatives in the Democratic Party as there are self-identified liberals. Democrats include the most well educated and the least well educated, but the least well educated Democrats are also the ones least likely to identify as liberal and more likely to identify as conservative.

If you look at those political knowledge quizzes, you’ll see that groups that are known to be extremely liberal do very well on them. For example, the audiences of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are always at the top of the most informed about politics.

If you look at other data, you’ll find that Republicans and the audiences of conservative shows often show high rates of being informed. The interesting part, though, is that they also show high rates of being misinformed. This is called the smart idiot effect. They tend to watch tons of political shows and they know a lot of information, but they unfortunately aren’t good at discerning between what is true and what is false. So, it isn’t just that there are both Republicans who are very well informed and others who are very misinformed. Rather, Republicans are more misinformed precisely to the degree they are informed. That is mind-blowing!

You don’t find this same high rate of smart idiot effect among liberal groups. this might relate as well that the most liberal demographic (i.e., the youngest demographic) get more of their info from alternative media than any other demographic. Part of this difference is because conservatives are a relatively older demographic who rely more on the established mainstream media. The younger generation is way more socially and fiscally liberal on most issues, way more critical of capitalism and way more supportive of socialism. Furthermore, the younger generation along with higher rates of alternative media consumption have higher rates of college education.

I’m not arguing low IQ liberals don’t exist. Besides, if it becomes a label that more people identify with beyond those who are above average in education and wealth, then the average IQ of liberals would probably decrease some or quite a bit (while the rate of the smart idiot effect might increase). Broaden the demographics behind a label and the IQ range will likewise broaden, specifically in this case among the less well educated lower classes and minorities.

Related to party politics, consider geographic regions and areas. Conservatives are disproportionately found in the South and liberals disproportionately in the North. It was through the Southern Strategy that the Republican Party took over the South. The average IQ in the North is higher than the average IQ in the South. Or look at this in terms of rural and urban. The rural areas tend to be more conservative and have lower average iQ and the opposite for urban areas.

If you’re interested to know why and on what basis I make the above analysis, here are a variety of things that inform my views:

“Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) support Kanazawa’s hypothesis. Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as “very liberal” have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence while those who identify themselves as “very conservative” have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence.”
“Most (62%) identify themselves as liberal… most highly educated group (49% have a college degree or more)… Liberals are second only to Enterprisers in following news about government and public affairs most of the time (60%). Liberals’ use of the internet to get news is the highest among all groups (37%).”–and-reality

I wanted to clarify one thing. I don’t think we are fundamentally disagreeing. Like you, I have great interest in personality, moreso than politics. I’m not an ideologue, but I do see politics similar to culture as a useful lense to explore psychology.

I don’t care about liberalism in and of itself. And the so-called liberal elite often irritate me. I agree that the average liberal, the average conservative, and other relatively more privileged people have no reason for being proud of achieving more than those with fewer opportunities, resources and advantages that come from upper class social capital.

Besides, I’m more interested in general liberal-mindedness, upon which all social democracy is dependent upon. Even the average modern conservative is more liberal-minded than the average conservative of past centuries. Liberal-mindedness does correlate to liberalism but not perfectly or absolutely.

My father is a conservative, especially fiscally conservative, with libertarian tendencies. He worked in the business world where he had a successful career, but ended up being a professor. Two things stand out about him, as relevant to this discussion. I’m sure his IQ is well above average. And he has great capacity for liberal-mindedness, most certainly above the national average.

I must give credit to my father for my own liberal-mindedness. My parents were going through a liberal phase of their life when they raised me, although they have never identified as liberal. Even more significant, they raised me in one of the most liberal Christian churches in the US, Unity Church which is New Thought. My father says my mother even was pro-choice when she was younger, but se denies it now. I have to at the same time also give my parets credit for my conservative streak.

People are complex, way more complex than political ideologies and religious theologies. Still, within that complexity, patterns can be detected.

“Those studies and articles don’t say much.”

They say no more nor less than any other scientific data. Dismissing them out of hand isn’t helpful. Kanazawa’s study is just one among many. I even purposely quoted that article about his study because it pointed out that his data was confirmed by other data.

“Would a psychologist (95 percent of which identify as liberals) pick up on that and make a study on it?”

Yes, most academics, scientists and other well educated people identify as liberal. And yet you oddly find it surprising that well educated people have above average IQs. Ask yourself why, in the first place, conservatives are on average less well educated, specifically in the context of higher education having an extremely strong correlation to higher IQ.

I have nothing against Gary Lewis’ study. However, as far as I can tell, it only dealt with certain factors of religion and not conservative vs liberal.

Many religious people are liberal, especially greater social liberalism among the religious who are middle class and upper class. Also, even though in the US there are a lot of poor religious people, those who attend church most often and are most involved in religious activities the most tend to be those who are wealthier and hence who are more well educated. So, there is a very mixed demographics in religion that isn’t found within, for example, contemporary American liberalism.

Gary Lewis’ study doesn’t speak to this greater complexity of the relationships between religion, ideological labels, socio-economic status, and cognitive development. I would also add the issue of psychological traits. The real issue I’m trying to disentangle here has to do with this larger context of factors.

In the US, liberals unlike conservatives are disproportionately found among the middle to upper classes which correlates to above average education and IQ. If you just look at middle to upper conservatives, you would expect to also find above average education and IQ. Ditto for any similar wealthier group. You’d have to explain why what applies to all other wealthier people doesn’t apply to contemporary American liberals who tend to be wealthier.

This ideological pattern of demographics in the US may not fit the pattern found in other countries. Maybe liberals elsewhere don’t tend to be above average wealth, education and IQ. That would then require an understanding of what liberalism is in different contexts and whether there is any general cross-national pattern at all to be found between ideologies and other factors.

I feel wary about generalizing too much. A lot of research I’m familiar with has come from studies done in the US, but American demographics and ideologies aren’t representative of the rest of the world. For example, research has shown that there is a greater correlation with authoritarianism among American conservatives. This isn’t to say that there is anything inherently authoritarian about conservatism in general, but that the issues movement conservatism has emphasized in America has drawn into the ranks those who rate higher on authoritarianism. Nonetheless, there are conservative traditions that are explicitly non-authoritarian.

As I’ve pointed out, I have a conservative streak. The type of conservatism that I’m fond of has more to do with agrarian traditionalism, specifically as described by Wendell Berry. The problem with American conservatism is that it doesn’t tend to be very traditional. A distinction is that mainstream American conservatives tend to be very supportive of capitalism even when it is destructive of traditional values such as a place-based sense of community and localized kinship social order.

I don’t know about liberalism, but I know there is a similar thing with data about left-wing politics. In the US, left-wingers tend to rate low on authoritarianism. But in communist countries, left-wingers have measured high on authoritarianism. And I’d be unsurprised if left-wingers in authoritarian communist countries had lower average IQs than left-wingers in non-authoritarian countries.

I think you are seeking to criticize from the wrong angle. Religiosity can’t be used as a proxy for conservatism nor liberalism a proxy for atheism. You need studies that specifically include all of these factors and seek to discern the causal links.

“How much they say is a matter of quality and it’s clear that Kanazawa did several things that reduce quality – the age of the interviewees, the one-dimensional measure of religiousness, measuring intelligence with vocabulary.”

I offered this link which is of an article written by a conservative:

From that link, you will find the link to the study itself:

In the blog, the author explained about the quality of the study:

“Yes, they used different types of intelligence tests; verbal and spatial. Yes, they corrected for socioeconomic background. Their replication was in the UK and USA.”

Along with other caveats, he offers this important detail about the study:

“It is important to emphasize that the authors do not posit an independent direct causal connection between low I.Q. and more reactionary attitudes towards race and homosexuality. Rather, they start out with a model where low cognitive ability people are drawn (or remain in) to conservative orientation, and this is further correlated with these specific racial and sexual attitudes. Like almost all psychology you can’t get the causation airtight (if you are a hardcore Humean you could probably say this for everything), but the correlation is suggestive in light of political and psychological models.”

T’his is basically along the lines of what I’ve been saying. Correlation between higher IQ and liberalism (or just liberals in certain countries) is not the same thing as causation. But the correlation still remains and appears to have good studies backing it up.

I offered another blog about yet another study. Here are the links to both:

As the blogger notes:

“The paper describes a meta-analysis based on data from three studies that employed the same set of psychological measures. Twenty-two of these measures were selected, drawn from four domains: personality, social attitudes, values, and social norms. While the paper finds strong support for the hypothesis that low cognitive ability is associated with high conservatism it doesn’t make any statements about causality.”

Once again, causality is the tricky part. Nonetheless, it is irrelevant for the point I’ve tried to make in my comments. I honestly admit to not knowing for sure why this particular correlation continually is found in so many different studies. I think many people get upset because they read into this an argument for causation, but that doesn’t seem to be what most researchers are proposing at this point.

A third link I offered is of an article that appears to refer to the same study as referred to in the first link above:

From that article, a critic points out the correlational nature of such research:

“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.”

That could be seen as a criticism, but from my point of view the correlation alone is interesting. Notice that even a critic like this admits that the correlation was demonstrated by the study. His criticism is that there is a lot of complexity involved and also other similar correlations might be found with other extreme ideologies.

I was thinking of a way of getting at a place of agreement between us. In my previous comment, the last quote was of a critic. He made a good point about low IQs maybe being correlated to extreme ideologies in general, whether right-wing or left-wing. That seems a key point to my mind.

From what I can tell, both of us agree that there is a distinction between being conservative and being right-wing. In the US and similar countries, however, conservatism and right-wing ideologies have become conflated. But the same thing hasn’t happened as much in recent history with liberalism and left-wing ideologies because Cold War fear-mongering has caused liberals to disown and distance themselves from left-wingers, although this might be changing now with new criticisms against capitalism arising in the mainstream again.

Going by this, the reason lower IQ would be correlated to conservatism is because conservatism has become correlated to right-wing ideologies. So, it might actually be right-wing ideologies that is forming the correlative bridge between lower IQs and conservatism, and hence no direct or even indirect causal link may exist between them.

What extreme ideologies may signify is simply authoritarianism. In the US, conservatives on average measure higher on authoritarianism than liberals. This is yet another one of those correlations with no certain causal link. At the same time, liberals and left-wingers in the US measure low on authoritarianism, but the opposite is found in authoritarian left-wing countries. The key component seems to be when a particular ideological movement becomes conflated with authoritarianism and hence conflated with extremist ideologies.

We’d need to look at countries where right-wing ideologies and fiscal conservatism don’t dominate. In an authoritarian fiscally liberal left-wing country, I suspect that the minority of counter-cultural ‘conservatives’ would have above average IQs. Maybe it could be as simple as low IQ people in general just like to fit in with the dominant ideology of their society or are less likely to think outside of the dominant ideology of their society.

At present, the right-wing ‘conservative ideology of capitalism dominates nearly all of Western civilization and most of the rest of the world through globalization. So, one would expect to find the high IQ people disproportionately opposing or standing outside of this dominant ideology. It could be a mere historically contingent condition of the ideological spectrum.

Does that make sense?

Re: The Moral Stereotypes of Liberals and Conservatives

In this post, I will analyze Jonathan Haidt’s study (in partnership with Brian A. Nosek and Jesse Graham) about liberal and conservative perceptions of and stereotypes about moral foundations:

“The Moral Stereotypes of Liberals and Conservatives”

Haidt did this research on self-identified conservatives and self-identified liberals which invalidates it from the start. Self-report data is notoriously unreliable.

Here is a good summary of the study and in summarizing the author unintentionally pointed out the problem of self-reports:

One of the applications of those pairings is a study that Haidt describes in Reason this way:

“In a study I conducted with colleagues Jesse Graham and Brian Nosek, we tested how well liberals and con­servatives could understand each other. We asked more than 2,000 American visitors to fill out the Moral Foundations Questionnaire. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out normally, answering as themselves. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as they think a ‘typical liberal’ would respond. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as a ‘typical conservative’ would respond. This design allowed us to examine the stereotypes that each side held about the other. More important, it allowed us to assess how accurate they were by comparing people’s expectations about ‘typical’ partisans to the actual responses from partisans on the left and the right. Who was best able to pretend to be the other?

“The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as ‘very liberal.’ The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the care and fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives. When faced with statements such as ‘one of the worst things a person could do is hurt a defenseless animal’ or ‘justice is the most important requirement for a society,’ liberals assumed that conservatives would disagree.”

In other words, conservatives understand liberals better than liberals understand conservatives.  More precisely, conservatives’ version of liberals matches liberals’ version of themselves better than liberals’ version of conservatives matches conservatives’ vision of themselves.

That last sentence hits the nail on the head, without the author realizing it.

Haidt was studying perception. He oversimplified his conclusions by stating the liberal perceptions of conservatives were wrong for the reason they didn’t match conservatives’ perceptions of themselves. This is oversimplified because, as Haidt should know, self-perceptions are often inccorect (while apparent stereotypes aren’t always incorrect). Haidt would need to also measure the accuracy of self-perceptions among conservatives and liberals.

Haidt is measuring the symbolic ideology rather than the substance on specific issues. This is a failing not only of this particular study by Haidt but also a failing of his other studies as well. As far as I can tell, he is only using self-report data in developing his Moral Foundations Theory. He is asking people what they identify as and asking people which values they identify with (i.e., symbolic ideology). Neither of these gets at people’s pragmatic ideology or gets at whether people’s stated beliefs conform to the less-conscious values they act according to. It certainly doesn’t get beyond the superficialities and biases of self-perceptions and self-reports.

Maybe the difference Haidt is measuring is being incorrectly analyzed. Maybe liberals are correct in their views of conservatives while conservatives themselves have less accurate self-awareness about their own conservative values. Maybe liberals are looking past the rhetoric and talking points to the actual behavior of conservatives. Actual behavior says a lot more about someone’s actual values than their own claims about what they theoretically or idealistically value.

One of the conclusions that Haidt comes to in the study’s paper is that liberals and conservatives are closer together than either side realizes. This is probably true in one sense and untrue in another sense. This is true when speaking of the average American in terms of the average liberal and the average conservative. However, the problem is that the conservative movement includes a significant number of people who are fairly liberal in their political positions.

If these politically liberal self-identified conservatives were removed from the measure of conservatism, then the average conservative would be much further to the right. There is no similar percentage of politically conservative self-identified liberals and so the average liberal would remain about the same. So, Haidt would come to different conclusions if he did a study that categorized people according to their political positions rather than their political labels.

There is an even further point of possible confusion. Haidt does at least distinguish a third group of  ‘moderates’. Polls show that most Americans will identify as conservatives if ‘moderate’ isn’t given as a choice. But if ‘moderate’ is given as a choice, most Americans identify as ‘moderate’.

So, there is a certain amount of overlap between moderates and conservatives. First, this would exacerbate the other overlap of political liberals self-identifying as conservatives. Second, considering there is a large percentage of Americans who will switch between the labels of ‘moderate’ and ‘conservative’, it makes issues of ideological conflation even more fuzzy. Furthermore, considering most Americans are politically liberal, these self-identified moderates are probably in ideological alignment with the politically liberal self-identified conservatives.

All of this leads one to wonder what ideological labels even mean. What is Haidt measuring? And what does Haidt think he is measuring?


Let me continue my analysis with some other types of questions and criticisms.

Were the subjects of the study a representative sample? If the sample was, for example, all or mostly college students who are more liberal, then it would mean that the conservatives were around more liberals and the liberals were around fewer conservatives. In the paper, this is what they say about the participants:

“The participants were 2,212 visitors (62% female; median age 28; only U.S. residents or citizens) to”

This basically fits in with my doubts. Like college students, females and the younger tend to be more liberal. In general, more liberals are probably found online than in other environments. So, Haidt’s sample would include more people who are liberal, liberal-minded, or otherwise familiar with liberalism and liberal-mindedness. I’d argue that this doesn’t offer a fair and accurate representation of the general population.

This brings me to other confounding factors.

Most older people are conservatives. Simply being older can potentially give one more perspective and experience. Younger generations are more liberal than the older generations were at the same age. However, when these younger liberal generations grow older, they probably will maintain their higher rates of liberalism (as did the older generation maintain their lower rates of liberalism) and will also gain more perspective and experience. Furthermore, younger conservatives may have no better understanding of liberals than younger liberals have of conservatives.

So, are the results of the study merely pointing to a demographic fluke at this point in history? If the study controlled for age, would different results be found?

Ignoring all of that, maybe there is something going on that Haidt isn’t even considering.

First, authoritarianism and social conservatism have been shown to have strong correlation:

“For several decades Bob Altmeyer, an American scholar at the University of Manitoba, has been a tireless and dedicated researcher. According to the

“Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology, Altmeyer’s work “powerfully predicts a wide rang of political, social, ideological and intergroup phenomena.” Altmeyer’s work is largely directed at other psychologists and social scientists. He has undertaken hundreds of experiments and his work is reliable and valid according to Paul Nesbitt-Larking reporting in

“Political Psychology in 2004. His work goes the distance in understanding conservatism.

“In an article titled “What Happens When Authoritarians Inherit the Earth? A simulation,” Altmeyer explains that, “When I started out, and ever since, I was not looking for political conservatives. I was looking for people who overtly submit to the established authorities in their lives, who could be of any political/economic/religious stripe.” His work identified “right-wing authoritarians” but he was not using the term “right-wing” in the political sense. Rather he used the designation in a psychological sense.

“But as he continued his work he reports that “it turns out that in North America persons who score highly on my measure of authoritarianism test tend to favor right-wing political parties and have ‘conservative’ economic philosophies and religious sentiments. He goes on to say that this empirical finding has been repeatedly duplicated in his continuing studies and has been replicated in studies by others.

“The extensive research on the behavior and personality characteristics of right-wing authoritarians and conservatives concludes that they are people who do not see themselves as they actually are and have little facility for self-analysis.

“The research demonstrates that conservatives delight in hurling invectives against their enemies and often prove to have the thinnest of skins if the same is done to them. Many conservatives are unaware of their illogical, contradictory and hypocritical thinking. And if they are forced to address it, either rationalize it away, fail to care, or go on the attack against those who reveal their human weaknesses.”

And authoritarianism has been correlated with higher rates of hypocrisy:

“Research reveals that authoritarian followers drive through life under the influence of impaired thinking a lot more than most people do, exhibiting sloppy reasoning, highly compartmentalized beliefs, double standards, hypocrisy, self-blindness, a profound ethnocentrism, and — to top it all off — a ferocious dogmatism that makes it unlikely anyone could ever change their minds with evidence or logic.”

It’s certainly not hard to find inconsistencies among conservatives, especially social conservatives. For example, conservatives have the highest rate of porn consumption and conservative states have the highest rates of teen pregnancy. I could list many more examples, but that isn’t as helpful as research on authoritarianism and hypocrisy. By the way, liberals test high on ‘openness’ which is something authoritarians, of course, test extremely low on (‘openness’ probably disinclines someone towards the worst forms of hypocrisy as found in authoritarian groupthink).

So, it is possible that many individual social conservatives even if only moderately authoritarian, enough to skew the conservative sample in that direction, are less consistent in their beliefs than the average liberal. This might skew the entire study for conservatives are familiar with their own inconsistencies and it is easier to be aware of your own inconsistencies (or the inconsistencies of those in your own group) than to be aware of the inconsistencies of someone who is entirely different from you, although being intuitively aware of inconsistencies doesn’t necessarily imply a broader self-awareness. On the opposite side: If liberals are more consistent in their beliefs, then it probably would be easier for a conservative to understand liberal beliefs. It is harder to have accurate views of an inconsistent group, especially one that hypocritically betrays its own stated values on a regular basis.

I really don’t know how this factor might play out in Haidt’s study. I have no data about ideological self-awareness as it might relate to authoritarianism and hypocrisy. My main point is simply that it is a confounding factor not being controlled for.

Secondly, it seems obvious that self-identified conservatives as a group are less ideologically homogenous than self-identfied liberals as a group. This would contribute to the conclusion that conservatives are collectively more inconsistent which would make it harder for an outsider to assess their beliefs on average. To determine this, testing for the average beliefs of liberals and conservatives wouldn’t be adequate, and so the rate of diversity of beliefs would also need to be tested. This is particularly problematic for Haidt’s entire theory as he is relying on self-defined labels which are notoriously unreliable because people’s defintions of such labels aren’t consistent. I’ve analyzed the complexity of this problem before.

The problem of the study is that self-described liberals are a smaller and more narrowly defined demographic group whereas self-described conservatives are a larger and more broadly defined demographic group, diversity making the conservative movement itself less consistent. As Pew data shows, almost 1 in 10 Americans holding strong liberal beliefs self-identify as conservative, but you don’t find a large number of Americans holding conservative beliefs self-identifying as liberal.

The conservative label, besides including 9% of Pew’s “Solid Liberals” (liberal across the board, both fiscally and socially), includes neocon progressives and war-hawks, free market neoliberals, fundamentalists as well as theocrats, some libertarians and socially liberal fiscal conservatives verging on libertarianism, patriotic statists wanting a militaristic empire, anti-statists wanting a weak government, openly gay Republicans, WASP culture warriors, white supremancists, gun-toting militants and survivalists, constitutionalists, small town rural types, elderly people remembering a conservatism that no longer exists, former Cubans who hate communism, small business owners fighting free trade globalism, big business defenders promoting free trade globalism, corporatists verging on fascism, anarcho-capitalists, Randian Objectivists, traditional Catholics who have high rates of membership in unions, union-bashing think tank employees, ordinary people wanting to conserve progressive reforms such as social security, politicians promoting the ending of the progressive reforms such as privatizing social security, etc.

You don’t find such massive diversity among self-described liberals.

A further problem is that self-described liberals don’t represent all liberals. As I pointed out, many liberals self-identify as conservatives. Other Pew data also has shown almost half of liberals self-identifying as Independents. I would suspect that most moderates hold a majority of liberal beliefs, values and policy positions. The data shows that most Americans in general, despite large numbers self-identifying as conservative, are actually very liberal on many key issues.

One other factor to consider is the mainstream media. Maybe some of the most popular pundits (or, most popular or not, pundits with the most ability to make themselves heard) such as Limbaugh and Beck aren’t representative of the average conservative. So, a liberal might mistakenly base their views of the typical conservative solely or largely on these few far right pundits. However, maybe the opposite isn’t true. As liberals are more narrowly defined as a group and because liberal activists are less radicalized, popular pundits of liberalism might be more representative of the average liberal and so the media ends up, intentionally or not, giving conservatives more accurate information about liberal beliefs.

Even if it is true that liberals are inaccurate in their assessment of the beliefs of the average conservative, liberals may be accurate in their assessment of the beliefs of conservatives in the media and other powerful conservatives who control the political narrative of the conservative movement. This is an important difference since pundits and other powerful people have more influence and control over party politics than does the average citizen. Political movements are defined more by their activists and leaders than by the average person identifying with the movement. It might be possible, though, that liberal activists and leaders are closer to the average liberal than is found with conservatives in the conservative movement.

How is the liberal supposed to know what the average conservative thinks when the spokespersons for the conservative movement don’t represent the average conservative? If this is the case, this would be more of a criticism of the conservative movement that causes such confusion than a criticism of the liberal who is confused by it. Going by this interpretation, I would posit that this possible liberal misperception of conservatives would be based on the mischaracterization of the average conservative by the conservative media itself and based on how the rest of the MSM mostly accepts this right-wing framing of the conservative movement.

All of the mainstream media and all of mainstream politics is similarly confused. You’ll never see acknowledged in the MSM that, although the average American would rather self-identify as a conservative than a liberal, the average American holds liberal views on many if not most major social, economic and political issues. The average liberal is simply repeating what they’ve learned from the MSM which is problematic in itself. It is sad that we must judge liberals for believing what they’ve been told by supposedly trusted news institutions. The MSM has misinformed the American people about the general public being more conservative than it  actually is and misinformed the American people about the average conservative being more right-wing than they actually are.

I admit that it is a sad state of affairs. I wish liberals better understood that the average conservative is closer in opinion to the average liberal than the average conservative is to the radicalized activists, leaders and pundits of the conservative movement. This is hard for most liberals to wrap their minds around for these non-radicalized average conservatives keep being manipulated by the radicals in their movement and hence voting the radicals into power, at least in recent decades.

Still, being manipulated by radical rhetoric isn’t the same thing as being radical oneself. Even liberals can be manipulated by the radical rhetoric of the right-wing which is what happened after 9/11. Fear works, sad but true.

Another factor to keep in mind relates back to hypocrisy. Haidt is testing for self-described labels and self-described values. This might in some cases have little to do with actual behavior. If on average conservatives show more inconsistency between their stated values and their actual behaviors, why would Haidt judge liberals as being inaccurate for basing their assessment on the actual behaviors of conservatives rather than on their stated values? Liberals shouldn’t be blamed for assuming that conservatives are more like liberals in thinking that their actual behaviors match up with their stated values. This speaks maybe to the naivette of liberals in not appreciating conservative hypocrisy, but such naivette certainly isn’t a moral failure. I think that ‘moral consistency’ (i.e., lack of hypocrisy) should be added to Haidt’s moral values.

There is also an irony in Haidt doing this kind of research. As I pointed out in my reviews of his theory, it seems obvious to me that Haidt lacks an accurate and unbiased assessment of liberal moral values. The fact that the theory itself is problematic makes any research based on it problematic. Maybe Haidt merely ends up testing for which group ends up agreeing the most with his own personal bias.

Another irony in a scientist like Haidt promoting conservative values is that research shows that conservatives mistrust science more and that this mistrust has been increasing:

But a similar strong and persistant bias can’t be found among liberals:–and-reality

“So now the big question: Are liberals also “smart idiots”?

“There’s no doubt that more knowledge—or more political engagement—can produce more bias on either side of the aisle. That’s because it forges a stronger bond between our emotions and identities on the one hand, and a particular body of facts on the other.

“But there are also reason to think that, with liberals, there is something else going on. Liberals, to quote George Lakoff, subscribe to a view that might be dubbed “Old Enlightenment reason.” They really do seem to like facts; it seems to be part of who they are. And fascinatingly, in Kahan’s study liberals did not act like smart idiots when the question posed was about the safety of nuclear power.

“Nuclear power is a classic test case for liberal biases—kind of the flipside of the global warming issue–for the following reason. It’s well known that liberals tend to start out distrustful of nuclear energy: There’s a long history of this on the left. But this impulse puts them at odds with the views of the scientific community on the matter (scientists tend to think nuclear power risks are overblown, especially in light of the dangers of other energy sources, like coal).

“So are liberals “smart idiots” on nukes? Not in Kahan’s study. As members of the “egalitarian communitarian” group in the study—people with more liberal values–knew more science and math, they did not become more worried, overall, about the risks of nuclear power. Rather, they moved in the opposite direction from where these initial impulses would have taken them. They become less worried—and, I might add, closer to the opinion of the scientific community on the matter.

“You may or may not support nuclear power personally, but let’s face it: This is not the “smart idiot” effect. It looks a lot more like open-mindedness.”

So, the very act of scientifically studying biases, including liberal biases, is typically going to get strong support from liberals and weak support (if not outright antagonism) from conservatives. Even if liberals were more biased about certain issues, that may be less relevant in that liberals also show a stronger desire to correct their own mistaken views.

To me, this relates back to the issue of consistency and hypocrisy. If liberals are more aware of inconsistencies when they occur, they will put more effort into becoming more consistent. I’d love to see Haidt not only study moral values but also how those values relate or don’t relate to moral behavior, especially the specific moral behaviors that the moral values imply.

I should clarify that I’m not arguing that liberals are morally better in all or even most ways. As I see it, there are strengths and weaknesses to both conservative and liberal predispositions. What I am suggesting, though, is that it might be possible that liberals are more self-aware of their own moral failings, at least in terms of being less prone to confirmation bias and the smart idiot effect when it comes to their own cherished beliefs and opinions. The hypothetical part would be whether being more self-aware of moral failings actually leads to lessening those moral failings and hence seeking to morally improve oneself, beyond merely being willing to change one’s mind according to new info.

As a liberal-minded person, what I care about are the facts even when or especially when they contradict or put doubt to my beliefs. However, conservatives don’t equally share my concern and this bothers me, almost causes me to lose hope.

Because of my liberal respect for science, I feel compelled to take Haidt’s theory seriously and to carefully look at his data. What I’ve come to is doubts about how Haidt is going about his research. My doubts are only increased as his conclusion doesn’t seem to fit the broader range of research about biases in terms of conservatives and liberals. I’d like to see Haidt’s response to all this other research and why it seems to point away from his preferred conclusion.

So, I honestly don’t know what to make of it. If someone can fix some of the problems of Haidt’s research model and yet come to similar results, I would be more convinced of his conclusion. Until then, it’s just data, just as likely to turn out to be meaningless as meaningful.


Here are a few of my previous posts about Jonathan Haidt, Moral Foundations theory, and the conservative/liberal distinction:

 Jonathan Haidt’s Liberal-Minded Anti-Liberalism

Haidt’s Moral Reasoning (vs ethnical reasoning)

Haidt & Mooney, Moral Foundations & Spiral Dynamics

Liberalism: Weaknesses & Failures

The Enlightenment Project: A Defense

And here are some relevant commentary on Haidt’s theory and research:’s_bulldog_claims_psychology_tilts_liberal


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