Thursday, March 04, 2010

Cart or Horse?: Politics, Religion, and IQ

From CNN:

"Political, religious and sexual behaviors may be reflections of intelligence, a new study finds.

Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa at the the London School of Economics and Political Science correlated data on these behaviors with IQ from a large national U.S. sample and found that, on average, people who identified as liberal and atheist had higher IQs. This applied also to sexual exclusivity in men, but not in women. The findings will be published in the March 2010 issue of Social Psychology Quarterly.

The IQ differences, while statistically significant, are not stunning -- on the order of 6 to 11 points -- and the data should not be used to stereotype or make assumptions about people, experts say. But they show how certain patterns of identifying with particular ideologies develop, and how some people's behaviors come to be.

The reasoning is that sexual exclusivity in men, liberalism and atheism all go against what would be expected given humans' evolutionary past. In other words, none of these traits would have benefited our early human ancestors, but higher intelligence may be associated with them.

"The adoption of some evolutionarily novel ideas makes some sense in terms of moving the species forward," said George Washington University leadership professor James Bailey, who was not involved in the study. "It also makes perfect sense that more intelligent people -- people with, sort of, more intellectual firepower -- are likely to be the ones to do that."

Bailey also said that these preferences may stem from a desire to show superiority or elitism, which also has to do with IQ. In fact, aligning oneself with "unconventional" philosophies such as liberalism or atheism may be "ways to communicate to everyone that you're pretty smart," he said."
Evolutionary psychological explanations always make me worry because they are just-so stories, arguments of the form "Well, this could be explained this way, if this were true," but there is no actual evidence to suggest that whatever advantage you want to base your story on is actually the advantage that was selected for, if it even was directly selected for and didn't show up as an accidental attribute from some other combination of features.

The question here is why the correlation even exists. Is it that one causes the others, that a combination of the others cause one, or is it a case of common cause, some other factor that makes all of the rest more likely. so, for those of you who are liberal, atheists, or both, and are not too busy with...shall we say...other things, what's the cart and what's the horse?