Friday, 12 March 2010

Correlation of the Week: Liberals and Atheists Are More Intelligent

Some people have thought this for a while.

A recent study, Why Liberals and Atheists Are More Intelligent, published in Social Psychology Quarterly has shown that more intelligent people are statistically significantly more likely to exhibit behaviours that have not been shaped by our evolutionary history.

Image by clintjcl. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Specifically, Satoshi Kanazawa from the London School of Economics and Political Science, postulates that liberalism (not to be confused with the Australian Liberal Party – a socially conservative political party) and atheism correlate with higher intelligence. Sexual exclusivity for men, but not women, is also a sign of higher intelligence.

According to Kanazawa’s theory, more intelligent people are more likely to adopt evolutionarily novel behaviours than less intelligent people. Evolutionarily novel values are those that humans are not biologically designed to have.

The theory is known as the Savannah-IQ Interaction Hypothesis. The Savannah Principle is the notion that the human brain was moulded through natural selection in an environment that is drastically different to the world we currently live in. This means it has difficulty comprehending and dealing with situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment – that is, on the savannah. An example of this is that our ancestors, in a time of scarce resources, craved sugary and fatty foods – those who ate more of these foods lived longer and were healthier than those who didn't. In today’s environment, where such foods are plentiful, this craving brings on health problems. The Savannah-IQ Interaction Hypothesis postulates that intelligence evolved to deal with novel problems – problems whose solutions evolution had not “hard-wired” into us. More intelligent individuals can better deal with new situations than less intelligent individuals, however both can deal equally well with evolutionarily familiar situations.

"General intelligence, the ability to think and reason, endowed our ancestors with advantages in solving evolutionarily novel problems for which they did not have innate solutions. As a result, more intelligent people are more likely to recognise and understand such novel entities and situations than less intelligent people, and some of these entities and situations are preferences, values, and lifestyles," Kanazawa said.

Kanazawa argues that humans are evolutionarily designed to be conservative and to care mostly about their family – those who have similar genes. Caring for unrelated strangers - that is, being liberal - is evolutionarily novel. This theory is backed up by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which found that young adults who identify themselves as "very liberal" have an average IQ of 106 while those who identify themselves as "very conservative" have an average IQ of 95.

Kanazawa also argues that religion arose because of our desire to look for the cause of events and to ascribe meaning and intention to natural phenomena. Humans are innately paranoid and extremely vigilant when it comes to self-protection. This was an evolutionary benefit for human preservation on the dangerous savannah. The survey showed that young adults who identify themselves as "not at all religious" have an average IQ of 103, while those who identify themselves as "very religious" have an average IQ of 97.

"Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in God because they are paranoid. So, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in God, and they become atheists," said Kanazawa.

Sex, sex, sex...

Throughout evolutionary history, it is theorised that men have been mildly polygamous in order to increase their chance of producing off-spring, whilst women have generally been monogamous, possibly due to the fact that a nine-month pregnancy period means that having multiple partners does not increase the chance of producing off-spring. Being sexually exclusive is evolutionarily novel for men but not for women. Kanazawa’s theory therefore predicts that more intelligent men are more likely to remain sexual exclusive – that is, monogamous – than less intelligent men. However, this does not hold for women. Again, the survey data supported this theory.

But he also found that intelligence does not correlate with the very oldest of evolutionary values. One finding was that more intelligent people are no more or less likely to value such evolutionarily familiar ideas as marriage, family, children, and friends.


  1. If I understand correctly there's a strong tendency for religious people to be conservative and atheists to be lefties. The article says the liberal-conservative spread is 10 points and the atheist-religious spread is only 6 points. So a multifactor analysis might show that being atheist has little direct effect, but rather has an indirect effect via making you a lefty. If I wasn't so cheap I could download the original article and see if they say that. If I wasn't so lazy.

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