Wednesday, December 17, 2008

GSS on personality formation: Genes or experience?

Kevin Mac Donald presents a standard summary of the putative political positions on the nature and nurture question. For conservatives:

Race exists as a biological reality; there are race differences in socially important traits like IQ; people’s brains are wired to prefer people like themselves; they are more likely to contribute to public goods like health care and education if the beneficiaries are of the same ethnic group; people trust others more if they live in homogeneous societies.
To leftists:

Race doesn’t exist; the idea that it does exist is a fantasy of moral reprobates. To the extent that differences in traits like IQ are interesting at all, they are the result of capitalism, discrimination, or general evil. If it weren’t for white people behaving badly, we could easily build a strong, racially diverse multicultural society where all people can live happily ever after.
In 2004, the GSS queried respondents on whether they believed experience determines personality or that genes play a major role in determining it.

As is often the case, the GSS question isn't optimal. How the "experience" answer is interpreted is important--the respondent is to presume it indicates experience as being the major determinant in personality, since the contrasting choice explicitly states as much, but in rushing through he might see experience, think it plays into personality to some degree, and thus choose it. That the question was only posed for a single year is also restrictive, although 2,300 people answered it.

Depressingly, only one-quarter (25.3%) of respondents said genes played a major part in determining personality. Meta-analyses of the big five show the personality traits to be 50% heritable in aggregate. Technically, that puts heritability right on the cusp of being a major determinant. But since it is unlikely that any other single cause constitues the remaining 50% of determination, in a vernacular sense it does constitute a major part. In any case, granting 50% heritability, at worst an even split among respondents should be expected.

The data suggest conservatives are 13% more likely than liberals are to see genes playing a major role in determining personality. But, contrary to Mac Donald's dichotomy, more than 70% of self-identified conservatives do not see genes being of much importance. When it comes to speaking (actions often suggest otherwise) publicly--that is, to strangers--the overwhelming majority of Americans give the blank slatist account of human diversity.

More depressingly, the more intelligent a person is, the less likely he is to attribute personality differences to nature. Setting the white Wordsum mean score to an IQ equivalent of 100 and assuming a normal distribution with a 15 point standard deviation, average IQ for those who believe (N=1225):

Experience primarily determines personality -- 99.1
Genes primarily determine personality -- 97.4

That is the trend among individual racial groups as well--the smarter, the less likely genes are offered as an explanation for personality. Cynically, this may just indicate that more intelligent people are better attuned to the dictates of political correctness. Being relatively more tactful, they are less likely to offer an answer they understandably believe might be viewed with hostility by the one receiving it.

The intelligence effect appears to hold within groups, and more-or-less between them as well. The percentage from each racial group that gives genes a major role in personality formation:

Nat. Am.41.3%25

The sample size for Native Americans is too small to put much stake in. The differences by racial group are pretty marginal. Those of European descent are the most ecumenically-minded. It is not surprising that their tendency towards blank slatism (at least in public) complements their universality.

Interestingly, women are 34% more likely to say genes are a major determinant in personality than men are. Maybe it's because women pay more attention to their children than men do! Linda Gottfredson and Heather Mac Donald excepted, among psychologists and social scientists, however, my sense is that men are more likely than women are to hold a position of prominence for genes. But I could easily be wrong about that.

Also interesting is the realization that the entire IQ gap between the experience crowd and the gene crowd stems from differences among men. Intelligence has no relationship with the conception of how personality is formed among women. Average IQ among men who say (N=547):

Experience primarily determines personality -- 99.7
Genes primarily determine personality -- 96.1

Why? A false reading based on too flimsy a question, most of those conducting GSS interviews are women and consequently men actively try not to come off as offensive, or something else?

Tangentially, this kinda sorta constitutes a desirable (although it's not universally accepted as being as much) attribute that correlates inversely with intelligence. That is, lower IQ increases the chances someone says something politically incorrect but true. To quote Socrates, when it comes to crimethink:
"I found those held in the highest esteem were practically the most defective, whereas men who were supposed to be their inferiors were much better off in respect of understanding."
Professor Bruce G. Charlton alerted me to a paper tracking over 7,000 Brits, comparing IQ at the age of 10 and social attitudes at the the age of thirty. It finds more progressive attitudes are associated with higher intelligence.

I suspect it is not that intelligent people are more oblivious to the realities of human biodiversity than unintelligent people are, but that they are more adept at playing the politically correct game. For instance, one of the attitudes is defined as "antiracism", arrived at by the following statement which correlated with IQ at .79: "I wouldn't mind if a family of a different race moved next door." Well, it's a safe bet that higher intelligence among whites is inversely associated with the chance of living next to NAMs. So even if these smart folks are theoretically welcoming of non-whites, they tend to live in neighborhoods few NAMs are able to afford. But actions aside, they know what the right answer to give is.

Ruminating on this is sobering. We in the Steveosphere are swimming upstream. The stronger the excoriations for violating politically incorrect taboos is, the less likely intelligent people are, out of a concern for self-preservation, to entertain thoughts about the taboos. More optimistically, the rapid improvements in DNA sequencing are rendering blank slatism more and more empirically absurd.

Finally, for those who've tinkered with the GSS, are there other attributes that proxy for courage, daring, boldness, or the like?

GSS variables used: GENEEXPS, SEX, RACECEN1


The Undiscovered Jew said...

The higher your IQ is, the better you are at functioning in groups and the higher your status is likely to be in your social circles and community.

High IQ people are, in a certain sense, more likely to follow a shallow intellectual fad because they have more to lose in terms of social status if they stray too far from their circle's fundamental principles than a lower class person does.

Their high rank makes them slaves to upholding the intellectual status quo because they have so much social capital to lose if they are ostracized.

Nonetheless, eugenics and Darwinism were quite popular among secular WASP progressives and it may well catch on again when the science of genetics blows up blank slate dogma.

Steve Sailer said...

That reminds me of how Bill James mentions that LA Dodger baseball players back in the 1970s and 1980s were carefully trained by management to politely and cheerfully respond to all press inquiries with the party line. The only ballplayer the reporters could get a truthful answer out of was slugger Pedro Guerrero. Pedro was later acquitted in a drug trafficking case when his defense attorney claimed entrapment by federal agents, arguing that Pedro wasn't smart enough to come up with the plan himself, as demonstrated by his tested IQ of 55.

Stopped Clock said...

Poor Pedro, it says in a news story that his wife had to make his bed for him and that she gave him an allowance.

Audacious Epigone said...


High IQ people are, in a certain sense, more likely to follow a shallow intellectual fad because they have more to lose in terms of social status if they stray too far from their circle's fundamental principles than a lower class person does.

Exactly. This is what I take Bill Lind was trying to get at when he described political correctness as the "great disease of our century". The character and professional assassinations of James Watson, a leftist with the credentials to comment on differences in human populations, illustrates why lesser high status folks choose to parrot the blank slatist line.


So candidness, if there is a reliable way to measure it, is probably inversely correlated with intelligence.

agnostic said...

There's another question that asks whether a person's kindness is due to genes or learning (GENENV03). Respondents don't say Yes or No, but answer on a sliding scale from 1 to 21.

Most people say the lowest, the middle, or the highest number. The choices in between these should just be lumped into "in between" categories, since it's not like someone can distinguish 15% from 20% genetic effect, impressionistically.

Blacks are more likely than Whites to fall into the "strongly genetic" side (i.e., below 10), while Whites are more likely to fall into the "strongly environmental" side (i.e., above 10).

Blacks are more evenly balanced. 35% favor genes and 55% favor environment. Among whites, 25% favor genes and 65% favor environment. 10% of each, then, are fence-sitters.

Hip-hop songs often feature lines about "I got it from my momma," not just a girl's phat booty, but her temperament as well. There's an episode of MTV's True Life ("I need anger management" or something), which you can view online at their website.

The Dominican girl from the Bronx says she thinks her anger is genetic and comes from her father. The white people talk about childhood experiences, even though the guido's mother is obviously super-high in testosterone.

Audacious Epigone said...


Thanks, I was unaware of that question (there are basically four variations of it).

You are systematically undercounting the genetic influence--11, not 10, is the 50/50 split point (it's on a 1-21 scale), so that's why my numbers in an upcoming post will skew away from the environment a little compared to yours here.

Audacious Epigone said...

Also, since you didn't answer over on GNXP, do you admit that blond hair is, ceteris paribus, more attractive than dark hair is (at least on women from the perspective of the average American male)?

agnostic said...

Ah, but you're neglecting that fact that most people -- even educated people -- can't count! They thought 10 was halfway between 1 and 21, because 10 gets lots of responses, just like the two extremes.

Re: finding blondness attractive, I admit no such thing, although a majority of others may suffer from this character flaw.

Audacious Epigone said...


Yikes, that is a problem. But 11 gets a response almost as high (and much higher than the other middling values), so there were many people who read the instructions correctly. How irritating.

Audacious Epigone said...

Re: hair color, I guess I'm standing up for the proles again.

agnostic said...

As long as you don't like pumpkin-colored tanning salon skin to match the fake blond hair, it's all good.

nzconservative said...

"The higher your IQ is, the better you are at functioning in groups and the higher your status is likely to be in your social circles and community."

Conversely, the lower your IQ, the more likely you are to be working in a job which is less politicised.

It's easier to get away with making politically incorrect comments if you're a plumber or truck driver than a school teacher or civil servant.

I'm mot sure though that the majority of people of above average intelligence privately disagree with the blank slant dogma.

In my view, the majority of people of above average intelligence aren't particularly intellectually curious and basically go along with what they are told about nature/nurture in introductory university courses.

It's only a minority of those of above average intelligence you are fully aware that they are being mislead and are wrestling with the moral and political implications of not believing what they are told is accurate.

Bufalcon said...

Yep. A big difference between intelligence and awareness.

The more aware person might easily score lower on an IQ test but be more competent at life.

We need to incorporate better measures of functional capacity into our testing.

SFG said...

The more aware person might easily score lower on an IQ test but be more competent at life.

Certainly true at and above the nerd cliff of 130 or so.

However, keep in mind that competence in life means telling people what they want to the high IQ people saying they believe in the blank slate are actually being more socially competent by saying the expected falsehood. It's sort of a double negative.

A lot of them may have been lying to the questioner; this is why I don't trust statistics on numbers of sex partners either.

As a personal aside, I was joking around with a coworker about James Watson being fired for joining the Klan, when he told me that, actually, there were IQ differentials between blacks and whites and Asians. I pretended incredulity, and said, "oh, no, that can't possibly be true", while secretly wondering, does he read iSteve too?

Audacious Epigone said...


Re: sexual partners, is there systematic variation? That is the pertinent question when comparing things like fertility and number of total partners. Are men who've had lots of kids more likely than those who've had few to lie about the number of partners they've had? I don't see any reason to assert so.

Anonymous said...

"Undiscovered Jew" is absolutely right: the higher your IQ, the more painful it is to have to live doing low-status jobs, hang out with low-status people, etc., therefore the softer your balls in going against the tide since loss of status is more detrimental to you.

One thing I'll add is, the more gifted you are, the easier it becomes for you to deal with things low-IQ people have difficulty dealing with. Therefore the more difficult it is for you to accept that you're, well, luckier. You'd rather believe that you owe it to your successfully having arranged to be born from the right racial lineage. It is probably evolutionarily wired in our brains to enjoy mocking lower status people, so you tend to invent warped explanations of why they are unsuccessful: either through guilt trips ("Yes, we can -- if you hand out a gazillion dollars to us") or through blame ("failed races are guilty of not having evolved enough").

-- JD