Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Those with higher IQs hold cognitive parity views

++Addition++As I interpret it, a comment by Case essentially conceptualizes the different perceptions in intelligence as self-serving bias. High IQ people attribute their intelligence to personal behaviors like a high need for cognition, hard work, copious studying, openness to new ideas, etc (never mind that these things are all correlated with IQ to begin with). Those with low IQs, on the other hand, attribute their lower intelligence to the (bad) luck of the draw and see their gifted counterparts as being just that--gifted with high intelligence.


Another excerpt from Geoffrey Miller's Spent by Steve Sailer just sent me over to Amazon to put in an order. Miller writes:
The irony about general intelligence is that ordinary folks of average intelligence recognize its variance across people, its generality across domains, and its importance in life. Yet educated elites meanwhile often remain implacably opposed to the very concept of general intelligence, and deny its variance, generality, and importance. Professors and students at elite universities are especially prone to this pseudohumility. They socialize only with other people of extraordinarily high intelligence, so the width of the whole bell curve lies outside their frame of reference. I have met theoretical physicists who claimed that any human could understand superstring theory and quantum mechanics if only he or she was given the right educational opportunities. Of course, such scientists talk only with other physicists with IQs above 140, and seem to forget that their janitors, barbers, and car mechanics are in fact real humans too, so they can rest comfortably in the envy-deflecting delusion that there are no significant differences in general intelligence.
A recurring theme here has been the search for a socially desirable attribute that correlates inversely with IQ. Miller suggests perspicacity in identifying differences in intelligence is just such an attribute.

I am skeptical of the assertion that people three standard deviations above the mean are so obtuse when it comes to seeing the realities of such differences that they really believe they do not exist. Hence my more cynical claim: Candidness in expressing true perceptions of differences in intelligence (and a general disregard for or unawareness of politically correct axioms) is inversely correlated with IQ.

Whatever the level of sincerity is, smarter people claim less variance in intelligence exists than duller people do. The following graph shows the size of the standard deviation for total responses by Wordsum score for the GSS question on the intelligence of whites (white line) and of blacks (black line). The smaller the standard deviation, the closer responses for that Wordsum score huddle around the average intelligence value. Sample sizes are too small for perceptions of other groups. The intelligence questions are on a scale from 1 (unintelligent) to 7 (intelligent):

The second graph facilitates the same observation in a less technical way. The percentage of all respondents who choose the middling value of 4, representing perfectly average intelligence, for whites (white line) and blacks (black line):

Whether it is blacks or whites being evaluated, the trend is clear--the more intelligent someone is, the more likely he is to see (or claim to see) everybody existing in a state of cognitive parity. Only vulgar rednecks claim to see differences that aren't there!

Assuming there is some disingenuity in the putative parity perceived by the intelligent, it's not difficult to see why it is to be maintained. Although Miller seems to be arguing that those with high intelligence are so surrounded by others like themselves (the cognitive stratification described by Herrnstein and Murray) they forget that real people exist in the social classes below themselves, in using the term "pseudohumility"--implying a calculated public downplaying of the importance of intelligence and their generous helpings of it--he nails it.

If intelligence is innate or even just unmalleable past a certain young age, those with high intelligence are unable to attribute their own successes to personal dedication, creativity, education, hard work, a strong personality, the liberal values they were raised with, and the like. They just lucked into it. And that means confronting sticky things like the fact that others aren't so fortunate and that with their elevated intelligence comes an elevated level of responsibility.

At whatever distance between nature and nurture reality sits (somewhere around 60%-40% if nurture encompasses everything that is not nature), it's closer to the former than the cognitive egalitarians would like it to be. Any ground ceded to nature threatens the entire educational structure. Most people probably intrinsically sense that smart kids go to Harvard more than Harvard makes the students it takes in into smart young adults. The last thing Harvard wants, however, is for that to become the conventional wisdom. It also threatens to impact a host of other issues like immigration, drug policy, welfare use, etc.



Blode0322 said...

Some cultures have a social structure notable for the privileges their highest ranks don't possess. In classic Hindu civilization, the highest castes aren't supposed to eat meat. Brahmin are not supposed to be predatory.

Maybe, as you've said, cognitive parity views are not a failure of perception. I think I agree, this is pseudohumility. To note your own group's advantage in some areas seems churlish, mean, boorish, it makes you a villain. Churl, boor, and villein - all terms for people of lower caste, correct?

Maybe recognition of IQ differences is eschewed because it threatens to raise the self-esteem of the upper classes at the expense of the lower ... it is predatory.

Deeper still: In the wake of religion, all that is left of our soul is our brain. Unfortunately, our brains can be quantified all too easily, if you study the subject at all. We're measuring all that's left of the main part of us ... the part Christians, etc. believe lives eternally. So recognizing group psychometric differences is equivalent to eating the souls of the lower-caste. The Brahmin would never do such a thing ... it would endanger their status in their next life.

To anyone who feels like understanding IQ is tantamount to cannibalism: I recommend you find yourself a nice old-fashioned religion and acquaint yourself with the ideas of the soul that prevailed while civilization was being built.

Jokah Macpherson said...

Aren't characteristics like personal dedication, creativity, education, a tendency to work hard, a strong personality, and a loving family that encourages learning just as unmalleable as intelligence? It seems like some of them could even be considered facets of intelligence. At any rate, they are characteristics one "lucks" into just as much as a sharp mind.

Whether one considers things from a metaphysical or a material standpoint, it makes no sense to ascribe certain personality characteristics to one's "self" and others to "luck". To the extent this is true, the intellectual elites are not being consistent with themselves if they fear a world in which intelligence is recognized as largely innate. Their attitude is demeaning to the less intelligent who recognize it for the gift it is.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's possible to overstate the influence of race when it comes to a general acknowledgement of variations in intelligence.

To admit to the general claim about individual differences is to give credence to the heretical and specific claim of racial differnces, and that's downright racist. So it's better just to say anyone can be smart if they work at it, that there are no inherent differences, or that IQ is a bogus measure of intelligence.

The "Bell Curve" lurks in the background of any discussion about IQ amongst the educated.

marie antoinette said...

if they have no wit let them be educated, it is so simple oui?

The Undiscovered Jews said...

If the left abandons equality of outcome dogma, and they do not believe in any religious moral order, then on what logical basis can they argue against hereditarian policies such as eugenics?

After all, if humans are just subatomic particles and nothing more as many on the left assert, then why should the left expend so much energy on protecting the weak when the less fit can just be weeded out over the longrun by encouraging the lower classes to use longterm contraception?

On a side note, I shall point out that -irony of ironies - when leftist equality of outcome orthodoxy goes down in flames, the only ideology left on earth that will be able to make internally consistent arguments for the brotherhood of mankind will be those hated and feared Christians!

BGC said...

This is a very insightful and striking piece of analysis!

(Although it took me a couple of tries before I 'got' the graphs.)

AE accurately summarized the liberal view as: "If intelligence is innate or even just unmalleable past a certain young age, those with high intelligence are unable to attribute their own successes to personal dedication, creativity, education, hard work, a strong personality, the liberal values they were raised with, and the like."

I agree that this is how liberal people usually think - but most of these alternative explanations are aspects of *personality*, which is - like IQ - hereditary, varies between individuals, and tends to be stable throughout life and hard to change.

For example personal dedication and hard work are the trait of Conscientiousness; creativity relates to moderately high levels of Eysenck's trait of Psychoticism (which, since Psychoticism is in some respects the opposite of Conscientiousness, correctly implies that it is unusual for someone to be both highly Conscientious and highly creative); education is substantially predeicted by IQ and Conscientiousness; and a strong personality implies low trait Neuroticism.

Even liberal values themselves are predicted - albeit rather weakly - by IQ -

My point is that personality is just as much a 'gift' as is IQ.

'Success' is therefore mostly predicted by psychological factors that are mostly stable and hereditary. Sheer random chance probably accounts for most of the left-over variance.

Charles Murray emphasized this same point in Real Education. If elites were educated to attribute their situation to a gift, they might have more genuine humility in these matters.

Instead, among elite liberals, a pseudo-humility concerning their IQ masks an arrogance concerning their personality.

Nick said...

I've no doubt that pseudohumility and political correctness matter, but I suspect the highly intelligent genuinely believe lesser intelligent sorts could peform at a higher level. This is a matter of distance: someone with an IQ of 160 may find the intellectual capabilities of the average individual so unimpressive that he cannot fathom how anyone could not function like this. I doubt most physicists, or whoever, really believe that anyone can do what they do, but they probably think the dullards are capable of quite a bit more.

Anonymous said...

Well, those with low IQs know what it is to struggle and they understand the advantage that high IQ people have.

The higher your IQ, the easier things come to you. A high IQ person experiences school as a place to go and sit and naturally acquire information. They don't completely appreciate the feeling of being unable to complete a task even when taught carefully.

Audacious Epigone said...


In the same way that on an individual level, self-deprecation is often false. To boast is seen as churlish, boorish, villainous--to let others do the bragging for you is a high mark.

Does it threaten to elevate the upper classes, though? Are people as wowed by accomplishments perceived as having been worked at or those that are just lucked into? And the latter carries with it more responsibility ("You were given this gift, so you'd better use it well").


Yes, they are. But they're more difficult to measure and more plausibly acquirable, too. People will work harder, at least in the short term, when the incentives are high enough, game rests on the presumption that personality is malleable/easily faked, etc.


The reaction to the Bell Curve is a perfect example--an ~800 page tome with around 60 pages or so focusing on racial differences in intelligence, the other 90% or so concerned only with differences in intelligence among whites. Yet what's the book's legacy today?


Listening to Christian radio, which I do from time to time, it's apparent to me that Christianity's concept of equality of all believers will remain standing after the blank slatist view becomes untenable.


I consistently struggle in describing what the graphs are showing. I'm not sure why that is such a weakness.

As I said above, intelligence is more easily quantifiable than other personal characteristics are. As anything correlated with social success is seen as more hereditary than previously understood, it is going to undercut the admiration of those who are successful. It is for this reason that I struggle with whether or not it is better for nature to be given more prominence in the popular conception--even if the idea of free will is threatened, is it not better than taking a fatalistic view?


That makes sense. A Harvard professor is going to have no regular exposure to people with IQs under 115, and consequently might conceptualize the bottom of the cognitive pool at approximately that level.


I'm mechanically 'declined'. I've thought about how much I struggle with electrical work, especially when first moving into my house, as analagous to what algebra must feel like for kids with an IQ of 80.

Case said...

Very interesting post!

Perhaps there's a common effect that distorts perception at both ends of the curve.

If you're at or below normal intelligence, it's easier to blame your relative lack success vis-à-vis others on something beyond your control...namely the spread in IQ.

If you're well above normal intelligence, it feeds one's vanity to take credit for your relative success vis-à-vis others based on your personal effort...and diminish attributing it to something beyond your control...namely the spread in IQ.

Just a thought from a physicist that's seen the arrogance up close...

Anonymous said...

Anyone who has been to college knows that academicians are obsessed with intelligence. They are constantly but subtlety competing with one another at every turn, and it is this competition that has hamstrung and obfuscated so much of science (e.g. Lewontin vs Wilson). The problem with being highly intelligent is that you have a natural tendency to constantly compare yourself with other intelligent people around you. Can you imagine being only the third smartest person at Harvard? A complete failure. This denial of innate intelligence simply shields these immature deniers from looking at themselves honestly.

Fortunately, I am a senior of average intelligence (and I mean average), but I have a lot of interests, and I think I possess a good deal of common sense, which I use to make up for a modest IQ.

Anonymous said...

Intelligence is one thing, and I know that low intelligence correlates with a lot of bad behaviors, but isn't it behavior that we need to focus on? Isn't behavior more important than simply intelligence?

People of high intelligence are not necessarily nice people, and many of them lack social skills, are antisocial, conceited, selfish, and generally add nothing positive to society. Where are all these 160+ geniuses? Are they working on a cure for cancer, or developing a new kind of energy source? No. Oftentimes, they are barricaded in their dwellings totally self absorbed and unable to interact sociably with people.

Are they really at an advantage from a Darwinian standpoint? I think not. They are not true survivors, but exist at the expense of a society of average folk.

If you engineered everyone to be highly intelligent, the first problem would be that they would probably not get along with one another, since intelligence and maturity do not necessarily go hand in hand. And then who would do all the distasteful jobs like butchering chickens, changing your motor oil, making beds, cooking, cherry picking, nursing care for you aged parents?

As a society, we are only as good as our average citizen; however, I think that instead of smarter people, we need to engineer better behaved people. And really smart people must not look down on people who are slow or average because they often provide them with a very symbiotic service.

Audacious Epigone said...


Self-attribution bias as an explanation for perceptions of intelligence. Very interesting.


Your comments bring to mind what Steve Sailer has famously written on whiterpeople and intelligence:

1) Intelligence doesn't exist, and 2) They're more intelligent than you are for the views (including that one) that they hold


On the individual level of course intelligence is not determinative of a person's decency, character, value to society, etc. But it does correlate positively with all of these things, which is why the higher a place's average IQ, the better place to live it tends to be.

In one of his best posts (and that's saying a lot), Randall Parker has addressed the fallacies of believing that unintelligent menial laborers are necessary for a functioning society here. It's definitely worth reading in response to the points you make.

Anonymous said...

"And then who would do all the distasteful jobs like butchering chickens, changing your motor oil, making beds, cooking, cherry picking, nursing care for you aged parents?"

Intelligent people used to do all that stuff for themselves. Besides, you want the smartest person possible doing a particular job. It is only relatively recently that the "cognitive elite" (and I put them in quotes, because I don't think they are as smart as they think they are) have decided to not get their hands dirty. That has been a huge detriment to our nation, and Western society as a whole(i.e. get some sub 85 IQ illegal to cut the lawn instead of them or the kids doing it. Then multiply that by millions). As AE has mentioned, having the highest average IQ possible makes places really nice to live in. Think Japan. Maybe that is boring for diversity freaks, but it suits me fine. These diversity loving cognitive elites also happen to live in nice neighborhoods instead of the 'hood. I couldn't imagine why...

Audacious Epigone said...


Right, as a host of commenters, myself included, point out in RP's post, smarter people are still better performers at menial jobs--they are less likely to miss work or make routine mistakes in the course of their duties. Further, it's not just an "at work" economic question--a greater fraction of smarties means more people writing novels, computer programs, or blogs in their spare time. My media player is filled with amateur work of some amazing mixes, from happy hardcore to video game-inspired techno. None of the creators are making any money off of this stuff. Further, more intelligent people are less likely to engage in pathological social behaviors, even at equivalent SES levels. And a smarter society is more likely to devise and produce more efficient methods of doing menial work. Japan, as you mention, serves as a nice example, with around half the world's working robots.

Anonymous said...

What I want to know is, when are all these moderate-IQ people going to start using their huuuuge social skills to solve crime, loneliness, road rage, etc.