Via Jezebel, sometimes science isn’t just good for improving humanity’s lot in this universe, or improving (or drastically reducing) our overall life expectancy as a species. Sometimes science is also excellent at coming along and sciencing you up the perfect blog post.
As it turns out, pretty much everything you’ve suspected about conservatism and racism being correlated with being scientifically proven stupid is exactly true. The worse your cognitive abilities, the more likely you are to be a prejudiced jackass.
The first study examined two groups of British adults, one born in 1958 and the other born in 1970. Both groups were assessed for intelligence at age 10 or 11, and then a followup was conducted when they were between the ages of 30 and 33. During the initial test, children were asked to complete tasks that tested their abilities to reason and remember. During the followup two decades later, researchers assessed the subjects’ level of prejudice and degree of socially conservative views. “Social conservatism” was determined by asking subjects to respond to a series of questions like “Family life suffers if mom is working full time” or “I wouldn’t mind working with other races.” In this study, children with low scores on the first set of tests tended to grow up to exhibit prejudiced and socially conservative viewpoints on the second set of tests.
The study found that people with poorer abstract reasoning skills tended to be more homophobic, even when researchers controlled for education level.
The Canadian researchers hypothesize that people who “have trouble grasping the complexity of the world” may tend toward prejudice and conservatism because they crave structure and can’t process chaos and nuance. Religion, authoritarianism, and isolationism appeal to a desire for order in a world that offers few absolutes.
Yes, that does dovetail with my every experience with religious, conservative, authoritarian or isolationist thinking I’ve encountered — the simple fact that the world is far more nuanced than their particular epistemologies allow for, and that people and situations are far more complex than such black-and-white thinking recommends, means these people are very often at odds with reality itself. The worse you are at comprehending nuance, the less likely you’ll have empathy for other people’s situations — whether you’re capable of such empathy or not, you need to understand a person’s lot in life before you can empathize.
This is one of those happy-making studies, though — one of those studies that plays into what we’d like to hear about those folks that we just can’t get through to with our ideals of plurality and reality-based policy. I’ve learned that the things that I want to be true, I should be the most skeptical of. The fact remains that this study is a correlative one, and cannot prove causality, not even by obtaining tons of data proving definitive correlations — to do that, we’d have to be able to, as the original study write-up maintains, randomly assign people to being liberal or conservative, and good or bad at reasoning. I’d strongly suspect, though, that since reasoning skills are usually taught first and politics taught later (in most upbringings anyway), the causation goes in chronological order.
I also suspect that the quickest way to end these disturbingly irrational philosophies is to teach children, as early as possible, how to think critically and reason properly. All the rest will probably fall into place naturally thereafter. And then, regardless of the direction of causality, you’ll have controlled for the only part you actually can in child-rearing. I mean, short of a cattle-prod and mind-reading device, which really isn’t liberals’ thing, by my understanding.