Dull minds, dark attitudes—study links prejudice to intelligence (again).

Interesting study: “Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes: Lower Cognitive Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup Contact.”

The study’s title is misleading. It should read “Dull Minds And Dark Attitudes,” since that is the correlation that they found. If you like this kind of thing, it’s worth a thorough reading.

The gist is that people with lower general intelligence as children are more likely to grow up to become racists or homophobes. This latent tendency is reduced if people have more actual contact with these “other” people, on the one hand and amplified by exposure to right-wing and social-conservative ideologies on the other.

Seems that people of below-median intelligence are attracted to conservative ideologies for the apparent social stability and maintenance of the status quo the ideological milieu is perceived to offer (requiring less abstract thinking). Conservative and right-wing ideologies in turn base themselves on “us-and-them” differences as well as hierarchies between groups of people. The result is that the dimmer porchlights among us seek out conservative ideologies where they are then provoked to act out any predilection toward racism and homophobia.

It’s tempting to reply to these conclusions with snarky digs about right-wingers and social conservatives being dumb, Fox News-watching racists and homophobes (well…), but the study is less about adult behavior than it is about behavioral development from childhood to adulthood. As such, it offers possibilities for making lasting reductions in prejudice.

Since the authors showed that exposure to human sexual and ethnic diversity reduces the likelihood that a child (of any intelligence level) will grow up to be prejudiced, an obvious way to counter prejudice in future adults is to maximize children’s exposure to “others.” That way, even if kids grow up to be social conservatives or right-wingers, they’ll be less likely to be racist and homophobic ones. This makes intuitive sense, but it’s nice to have data. It also makes sense for adults as well, irrespective of intelligence or where someone falls on the conservative-to-liberal social spectrum.

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