Smart Beliefs

Adult intelligence predicts adult espousal of liberalism, atheism, and sexual exclusivity for men (but not for women), while intelligence is not associated with the adult espousal of evolutionarily familiar values on children, marriage, family, and friends. … Childhood intelligence at age 10 significantly increases the probability that individuals become vegetarian as adults.

More here.  The author interprets these findings:

More intelligent individuals should be better able to comprehend and deal with evolutionarily novel (but not evolutionarily familiar) entities and situations. …. There has been accumulating evidence for this. …

  1. Individuals’ tendency to respond to TV characters as if they were real friends … appears to be limited to those with below-median intelligence. …
  2. Net of age, race, sex, education, marital history, and religion, less intelligent individuals have more children than more intelligent individuals, even though they do not want to do so. …
  3. More intelligent individuals stay healthier and live longer … [but] general intelligence does not appear to affect health and longevity in sub-Saharan Africa, where many of the health threats and dangers are more evolutionarily familiar. …
  4. Criminals on average have lower intelligence than the general population … Much of what we call interpersonal crime today, such as murder, assault, robbery, and theft, were probably routine means of intrasexual male competition in the ancestral environment, … [and] the institutions that control, detect, and punish criminal behavior in society today—the police, the courts, and the prisons—are all evolutionarily novel. …

Liberalism … [is] the genuine concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated others and the willingness to contribute larger proportions of private resources for the welfare of such others.  Defined as such, liberalism is evolutionarily novel. Humans … are not designed to be altruistic toward an indefinite number of complete strangers whom they are not likely ever to meet or exchange with. … There is no evidence that people in contemporary hunter-gatherer bands freely share resources with members of other tribes. …

Our ancestors … could have attributed [an ambiguous situation] to intentional forces when they are in fact caused by unintentional forces … or they could have attributed them to unintentional forces when they were in fact caused by intentional forces. … [The] evolutionary origin of religious beliefs in supernatural forces may stem from such an innate bias to commit Type I errors rather than Type II errors. … Out of more than 1,500 distinct cultures … only 19 contain any references to atheism. …

A species-typical degree of polygyny correlates with the extent of sexual dimorphism in size. … On this scale, humans are mildly polygynous, not as polygynous as gorillas, but not strictly monogamous like gibbons. Consistent with this comparative evidence, … an overwhelming majority of traditional cultures in the world (83.39 percent) practice polygyny with only 16.14 percent practicing monogamy and 0.47 percent practicing polyandry.

The results are interesting and worth pondering, but it is still far from clear to me why the modern world should push smart folks in these directions.  Is it that smart folks are more open minded and willing to adopt new beliefs?  If so, why do they differ only on some topics but not on others?  Is it that some beliefs are newly rewarded in the modern world, and smart folks are faster on the uptake?  This makes some sense of monogamy values, since the farming revolution has preferred that institution (longer term investments, easier to hold women).  But how does this story make sense of smart folks being more liberal, atheist, or vegetarian?

HT Ajay Menon

Added 11a: Folks, these beliefs cannot credibly signal smarts if dumb folks can hold them as easily.  Perhaps dumb folks cannot defend these beliefs as ably, but dumb folks cannot defend any belief as ably.  So credibly signal smarts via defending such beliefs, it would have to be that one’s smarts shone more clearly when defending these beliefs, vs. when defending other beliefs on the same topic.

Could these be more far-mode beliefs, and smarties tend to think more far?

Added 28Feb: Apparently this source has questionable reliability.  So I won’t try so hard to explain his odd results.

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  • Doug S.

    I don’t know about liberal or vegetarian, but I can certainly explain atheism among smart people. Atheism is correct, and smart people are more likely to come to realize this. 😉

  • Michael Osborne

    As a foreword, I don’t believe that Prof. Hanson has not thought of what I am about to write, so I imagine there’s some flaw in my thinking that I haven’t spotted.

    As an explanation for intelligent people adopting vegetarianism, couldn’t it just be a signalling thing? Adopting vegetarianism, which is difficult for less-intelligent people to adopt due to evolutionary pressures, may be an effective way of demonstrating your intelligence to other intelligent people.

  • PeterW

    As smart folks become more separate from the rest of society, it makes sense that their beliefs would become more separate as well, as a form of group signaling. There may be a slight trend towards more intelligent ideas, but overall I think the main factor here is the “we are separate [and superior], and I affiliate with this tribe,” rather than the sum of independent, thoughtful truth-seeking.

  • PeterW

    Needless to say, liberal atheist vegetarians would like to use this data as a sort of appeal-to-intellectual authorities, so there is an incentive there to publicize and interpret the results in a certain way.

  • Will Slade

    Smarter people just have more and better mental models. Intelligence is really about perception.

    Smart people are more capable of recognizing that they are incredibly lucky to be who they are and not someone else. That should, if you are ethical, push you in the direction of empathy.

    Liberalism and vegetarianism are both expressions of a higher ability to empathize with other people or beings.

    Atheism is the expression of doubt as to the lack of evidence for a creator, and the inconsistency in the message of the believers.

    Male monogamy is based on the realization that if it didn’t exist, most men would be single as a few very wealthy men would dominate most females. Most women realize this as well, and the difference is enlightened self interest.

    It won’t matter after TEOTWAWKI, but all of this is understandable.

  • XiXiDu

    Hmm…I’m calling myself an atheist, vegetarian and transhumanist. Though I wouldn’t call myself a liberal. And compared to you folks, particular over at, I’m not smart.

    I grew up in a very religious environment and decided to become vegetarian at the age of 13. Only later I turned atheist and afterwards figured that I agree with the basic tenets of transhumanism.

  • anon

    The author’s explanation for atheism makes sense to me; smart folks are less likely to mistakenly attribute agency to a non-intentional situation, which makes them less religious.

  • Jack

    Signaling behavior?

    If everyone knows that intellectuals are atheists, intellectuals (and aspiring intellectuals) might espouse atheism to signal that they are, indeed, intellectuals.

    • Jack (who uses this name at LW)

      Hi other Jack. We both seem to be posting here under this name. Since most of your comments are pretty good I don’t mind being associated with them but maybe we should distinguish ourselves? I’ll put “(LW)” after my name from now on but maybe you could add a last initial so that people from Less Wrong don’t get confused? I’d appreciate it anyway.

  • Les Cargill

    But we test children before/around age 8 for IQ. They’re sorted and frequently exposed to very different educational experiences.

    I will bet that fewer of the rural people with higher IQ are vegan than urban people with higher IQ, because the school systems are more heterogenous.

    People with higher IQ are also trained in a “project” mentality. They (relatively rightly) believe that coordination is always the biggest risk, but when some fundamentally Progressive/Utopian/Liberal programme goes off the rails, it may well be because it’s simply infeasible, not because of coordination failure. Yet coordination failure is the Maslow’s hammer they have…

    You have to go to a land-grant college, in the engineering departments to find people who understand complexity and feasibility enough to reason effectively about this. But guess what they *lack* in the eyes of your liberal/vegan/atheist?

    Your ole buddy “status”. This is 90% of the “geeks vs suits” divide, too, with suits being of a different secular religion than vega-Liberal-atheism, that religion being freshwater economics, give or take.

    SO guess what tribe I’m in? 🙂

  • PeterW

    Note that there are very few ways to credibly signal IQ. After all, the received wisdom is that IQ is meaningless, does not measure intelligence or anything important, and certainly does not differ between groups. So flashing the IQ badge won’t cut it.

    This means that for the purposes of signaling intelligence, the cheapest way is to profess beliefs that everyone knows are associated with smart people.

    The second cheapest way is to attend a prestigious university for four years.

  • Edward Gaffney

    I agree with Robin that this is an example where beliefs work to signal loyalty to and conformity with a group. Intelligence is correlated with social status, though not strongly enough to equate the two, so established elites need mechanisms to prevent mobilisation of outsiders against the group. Given social mobility, signal unpopular beliefs that make it more difficult to affiliate with most people. Vegetarianism and atheism are both quite unpopular.

    Ridiculous beliefs work better to ensure loyalty, but are not feasible in the presence of within-group competition to signal intelligence by critical engagement. Thus, we should expect signals like religious fundamentalism to be more popular in more authoritarian political/intellectual movements, not to mention more common and effective in maintaining loyalty. These predictions seem to agree with reality in the United States.

    Finally, it is also likely that more intelligent people have encountered more strong arguments against beliefs popular among most people, especially during formative years when one begins to commit to a stance on one’s beliefs that is costly to revise.

    • Edward Gaffney

      Note also that atheist arguments and texts are popular among and propagated by the authors’ peer groups, even when there are considerable returns to defending the status quo, like popularity among the majority of people who think atheists are immoral or evil or threatening. This suggests that significant atheists like Richard Dawkins are considered by their peers to be powerful insiders rather than controversial outsiders.

  • Robin Hanson

    I just added to the post.

    • Edward Gaffney

      But in a separating equilibrium, people who aren’t smart actually can’t hold these beliefs as easily, because they engender distrust among peers.

  • Matt

    Perhaps there should be a study asking whether or not intelligence is associated with a belief that there is a test for measuring intelligence.

    • Helian

      Good point, but indicative of an insufficient mastery of doublethink. If you want to be intelligent like the rest of us, you have to believe that there is a test for measuring intelligence if it is associated with atheism, liberalism, or vegetarianism, but there is no test for measuring intelligence if it is associated with race or sex.

  • Mark Nau

    Evolutionary conditioning exerts a strong gravitational pull on one’s beliefs.
    Intelligence correlates with the ability to navigate one’s beliefs despite this gravitational pull.
    So, when we find that smarts correlates with evolutionarily novel beliefs, that is not necessarily a sign that anything was attracting high-IQ people toward those beliefs, but rather just that far more of the lower-IQ people are unable to break away from the gravitational pull.

    Carrying along with the analogy, all the people we find living on the moon will be high-IQ, because they are the only ones with spaceships. That doesn’t mean the moon is a better place to live than Earth.

    • Quiet Griot

      I think this is the right interpretation of what the article is trying to say. The idea is, think about all the preferences/beliefs that one could potentially hold. A subset of these possible beliefs are going to have the characteristic that they are associated with traits or behaviors that would have been maladaptive back in the hunter-gatherer societies in which our brains evolved, but that association is not relevant in modern society (empathizing with people outside the tribe, for example).

      Given preferences/beliefs will have various pros and cons which people perceive in different ways. One of the cons of holding a preference/belief that was formerly maladaptive (what they call “evolutionary novel”) is that some part of your brain is saying, “don’t do it, it’s maladaptive!” A more intelligent person will be able to recognize this and cross it off the list of cons, a less intelligent person will not.

      So, for example, there is some group of people out there who would be happiest if they held liberal beliefs, but they don’t hold liberal beliefs because are too stupid to dismiss the instinct that is telling them, “don’t emphathize with people outside the tribe, that will get us killed!”

      If you wanted to relate it to signalling, I think the idea would be that the signals via preferences/beliefs like being liberal, atheist, etc. are less costly for smart people. It certainly rings true to me that some people espouse liberal political beliefs as a way to show others how capable they are of rising above their “base” urges. Sure, dumb people can signal “liberal” too, it’s more costly for them to do so.

      It’s exactly the same as the selection part of the education signalling story- someone who isn’t very bright would find getting a law degree to be a horrible experience, and would be very unlikely to want to do it even if they could. So, part of the benefit of having a law degree is that it shows that you probably aren’t one of those people.

  • aretae


    Beautiful post, question. I can’t answer in enough depth in a comment, so I answer on my blog.

    1. The unconstrained vision makes better sense than tradition for people with moderately higher than average IQ. This should be testable by checking the strength of the association as IQ rises past +3sigma.
    2. Assortive association: People hang with people with the same IQ. This is not even open to discussion any longer.
    3. Social conformity. Once you’re in a +1-2 sigma group, since they’re all liberal, you become that way too.

  • Violet

    Second, net of age, race, sex, education, marital history, and religion, less intelligent individuals have more children than more intelligent individuals, even though they do not want to do so.

    So less intelligent inviduals have an evolutionary advantage? (if there is no large difference in the number of surviving offspring)

    • Jack
      Second, net of age, race, sex, education, marital history, and religion, less intelligent individuals have more children than more intelligent individuals, even though they do not want to do so.

      So less intelligent inviduals have an evolutionary advantage? (if there is no large difference in the number of surviving offspring)

      It’s quite reasonable that there is an evolutionary disadvantage to being ‘too smart’, but this doesn’t imply that we would expect humans to ‘devolve’ into a race of morons. The baseline human is still pretty damn smart, as far as animals go. The net selective pressure could easily be “smart enough to survive and reproduce, dumb enough to not realize the pointlessness of doing so”.

      • Tim Tyler

        Why do you describe reproduction as “dumb” and “pointless”???

        Reproduction – according to biologists – is the primary aim of most living things. Surely it is not more “dumb” and “pointless” than any other goal you care to mention.

  • Consumatopia

    If you take liberalism as strictly defined in the above passage, it is orthogonal to the issues of government and coercion–obviously* a libertarian/classical liberal can “show genuine concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated others” and have “willingness to contribute larger proportions of” their own “private resources for the welfare of such others”.

    By that definition, this makes perfect sense–altruism, vegetarianism, and atheism are all more parsimonious than the alternatives. Theism obviously has an extra deity hypothesis, while egoism and carnivorism assumes that there is something so special about me or my species that all other people or species are of near-zero significance.

    • Matt

      Under this framework, altruism that treats any given individual as more important than yourself would seem to be less likely (as it is less parsimonious). What is it about someone else that makes them more deserving than you?

      I don’t know though. Assuming that you shouldn’t treat a consciousness that you are part of as more important to one that you are not part of seems like it displays an ability to willfully avoid evidence. How does it take intelligence to ignore that you partake of your own consciousness and life but not of anyone elses?

      • Matt

        I suppose to rely on reason and ignore the empirical evidence of the senses that you actually have a body and a self could be argued to privilege intelligence (insofar as it means reasoning), but I’m not sure that is actually a good thing in any sense.

      • Consumatopia

        Under this framework, altruism that treats any given individual as more important than yourself would seem to be less likely (as it is less parsimonious). What is it about someone else that makes them more deserving than you?

        Maybe altruism is the wrong word–I’m thinking of seeing others as equally deserving, or at least paying other creatures some non-negligible regard. It’s a rejection of solipsism and acceptance of the mediocrity principle–there’s nothing special about my brain that makes it sentient while all the other brains are philosophical zombies.

        Assuming that you shouldn’t treat a consciousness that you are part of as more important to one that you are not part of seems like it displays an ability to willfully avoid evidence. How does it take intelligence to ignore that you partake of your own consciousness and life but not of anyone elses?

        It’s clearly not avoiding evidence–the evidence suggests that other people and creatures are conscious just as I am. It’s not making additional assumptions–a claim that all people are worthy of regard is clearly simpler than a claim that only Consumatopia is worthy of regard.

        We are directly aware of our own consciousness and life, but with intelligence we indirectly infer other people’s consciousness and life. (And the same could be said for our present and future consciousness–we directly “partake of” only our present consciousness, while we infer that our future consciousness exists.)

        It’s of course true that most of us have an itch to increase our own future welfare and that of people most near to us. But with intelligence, we can question that itch and ask whether it should be followed. We can ask whether it’s good, virtuous, noble, or beautiful to scratch this particular instinctive itch.

        Of course, one could always conclude that for Hayekian reasons or similar it actually is better to direct most of our attention to our own welfare and those of people near us.

  • Les Cargill

    Another thought:

    I’d read somewhere that Harvard started off roughly Congregationalist, then shifted Unitarian during the Romantic/Progressive parts of the 19th Century.

    Veganism and “atheism” are highly Unitarian traits. This makes it more of a path-dependent, historical thing than an actively selected-for suite of properties. Nothing more sophisticated than momentum/inertia is then needed. Once that sets the high moral tone, it “latches” that state, and becomes very difficult to dislodge. Unitariansm could replace Calvinism because Calvinism is uncomfortable and not easy to square with the realities of the industrial Revolution – primarily rising standard of living. Our more Calvinist industrialists like Ford and Rockefeller always came of as quite a bit nutty.

    One Peter A. Taylor put together a work titled “Yet Another Space Alien Cult ” to explicitly analyze why Unitarianism is puzzling. .

  • Tim Tyler

    One important reason smart people have the values they do it that they have more and longer eduction – which means greater exposure to viruses of the mind – and so a heavier load of memetic infections. The way education messes up your basic biological programming has been well documented – e.g. by Boyd and Richerson.

    • Matthew C.

      Really nice observation, TT.

  • stephen

    Folks, these beliefs cannot credibly signal smarts if dumb folks can hold them as easily.

    First: I would say that people are signalling social class, more so than intelligence per se, and of course intelligence is highly correlated with class, but whatever.

    Second: The study was longitudinal, but how many generations did it span? If the belief tendancies of the upper class change over time perhaps they are simply re-adjusting to the changing beliefs in the lower class who are trying to “catch up”.

    If we took the beliefs of the median smart-liberal and the-median dumb conservative from 100 years ago and compared them to their modern counterparts, what would the covariance matrix look like?

    Were there samples from non western countries?

  • stephen

    Sorry, I forgot to close the tags.

  • Buck Farmer

    Robin, a real brainteaser you’ve got here…

    …okay, let’s see.

    1. Liberalism:

    I’d argue that some degree of liberalism i.e. concern for non-genetically-related humans is a necessary condition for modern social organizations simply because family/clan/lineage structures are generally not robust when:

    (1) There are lots and lots of people
    (2) These people are moving around a lot i.e. changing jobs, roles, locations

    Both (1) and (2) are aspects of any economy with significant trade i.e. an above subsistence economy. These aspects are aggravated when industrialization and now the move towards globalization of information, capital, and labor kick in.

    In order for this to work we have to have highly abstracted trust for anonymous strangers and mysterious systems/institutions.

    In other words, liberalism allows us to not kill each other or completely socially atomize while still maintaining a transaction-based arms-length economy. Could this be part of why urban areas tend to be more liberal than rural?

    (1) and (2) are both evolutionarily novel situations and so those that are more mentally flexible will adapt to them faster/better.

  • Neal W.

    Liberalism is also the political philosophy that gives intellectuals the most status.

    • Buck Farmer

      I wouldn’t say this is obvious from liberalism as defined above i.e. concern for non-genetically-related others.

      Also, historically there have been periods of extreme conservatism among the intelligensia.

      At least that’s how I’d interpret Hegel and a lot of the Continental Philosophers. There are a fair number of modern Luddites. C.P. Snow wrote about this trend in the Humanities back in the mid-20th Century.

      Also…arguably Plato’s Republic is the proto-typical exaltation of the intellectual and extremely conservative. At least in Karl Popper’s reading, the Republic is good primarily because it does not change and for no other reason.

      • Sticky

        The definition provided is wrong, or at least drastically incomplete.

        We should be careful not to reify liberalism and conservatism. Even if Plato’s Republic is in some sense conservative, that has no bearing on what Sarah Palin or Glen Beck believe. If we find that forms of conservatism which gave intellectuals high status were popular with intellectuals — Confucianism is probably the best example that was actually practiced by a society — that in no way refutes the supposition that a form of liberalism which gives intellectuals high status might be popular with them for status-related reasons. Quite the opposite, I would think.

  • Buck Farmer

    2. Atheism:

    Big assumption: Theism is generally a byproduct of the human mental heuristic of attributing intentional agents behind unexplained phenomena. I am not considering the case that we have better/worse evidence for theism/atheism.

    Question 1: Why is there a difference in held beliefs?

    Question 2: Why is there a difference in reported beliefs?

    Assumption: Held more or less equals reported for atheism/theism.


    More intelligent people tend to have higher exposure to essentially random or complex-emergent processes than less intelligent people because…

    (1) They compete over a non-local field. They compete in education admissions, jobs, and in the markets with people all over the world. Less intelligent people generally compete more locally..i.e. within a company or community that they know well.
    (2) Global competition is a fairly random/difficult-to-understand process. There are many many goals to go after which you have limited information about and you have even poorer information about your anonymous competitors. Thus from an epistemological standpoint it can be well approximated by a fairly random system.

    High exposure to randomness -> break-down of robustness of intentional-agent explanation of the world i.e. God appears to be so arbitrary and capricious that he is not well approximated as a mind.


    Even if you are an atheist, why would you report it? It antagonizes theists who are prevalent and can hurt you.

    Here I think a signalling argument can be used. The equilibrium is separating because

    (1) For high intelligence the cost of switching from theist to atheist are low cognitively (for the reasons outlined above)
    (2) For low intelligence the cost of switching is high since theism remains robust in explaining the world

    Moreover, the antagonism of the theists towards the atheists helps separate the equilibrium even more.

    (I admit I’m less comfortable with this explanation than with my liberalism one; primarily, because it isn’t wholly obvious to me how atheism/theism are materially useful beliefs under different conditions)

  • mattmc

    “liberalism = the willingness to contribute larger proportions of private resources for the welfare of such others”

    Is this really what liberalism entails? It sounds like charity to me.

    • Buck Farmer

      I haven’t read the study, but if that’s how they’re defining it and that is what they are measuring then the result still holds.

  • Buck Farmer

    3. Vegetarianism


    …I’m sorely tempted to argue that this is a byproduct/error of liberalism i.e. you are empathetic towards non-genetic-others to the point that you include the rest of the Animal Kingdom.

    …but that would be uncharitable.

    I’d say there’s an argument in terms of signalling…not intelligence necessarily, but certainly wealth. Because of our nutritrional needs, I’d say it is expensive to be a healthy vegetarian.

    There’s also the tricksy argument that it is a commitment device used by women since their protein needs are lower and men’s are higher. The way this would tie into intelligence is through the monogamy belief. Women are comparatively better at ensuring resource exclusivity if they are more intelligent.

    Less intelligent women have a weaker bargaining position due to lack of social pressure towards monogamy and so they can’t afford to use the vegetarian commitment gambit.

    Neither of these arguments is very satisfying to me. I will have to mull this one longer. Food for thought.

    • Phil Goetz

      …I’m sorely tempted to argue that this is a byproduct/error of liberalism i.e. you are empathetic towards non-genetic-others to the point that you include the rest of the Animal Kingdom.

      …but that would be uncharitable.

      I find it very strange that you think a vegetarian would be ashamed to have their empathy revealed publicly. That’s sort of the point of it.

      • Buck Farmer

        I mean that it would be an uncharitable interpretation of vegetarianism to say it was a mere cognitive error/byproduct.

  • magfrump

    First I’d like to note that with these long comment threads and no comment threading or up and downvoting it’s really hard to tell if the point I’m going for has already been made, or which page-long reply is worth my time to read.

    Second, Robin you say:

    Added 11a: Folks, these beliefs cannot credibly signal smarts if dumb folks can hold them as easily.

    But as Ed Gaffney and a couple others briefly mentioned, dumb folks CANNOT hold these beliefs as easily.

    Two major reasons for this seem apparent:
    1) people associate with similar-IQ groups, which have social standards
    2) these “smart” beliefs aren’t adaptive to the ancestral environment, so they are tangibly harder for human brains to hold.

    So the ability to actually profess “smart beliefs” demonstrates two things:
    1) You care about what “smart” people think
    2) Your “principles” outweigh your “instincts.”

    • Robin Hanson

      If you know of a way I can add voting to this blog (without sharing a point system with some other blog), I’m all ears.

  • J

    The conclusions of the study are a bit contradictory; liberalism, as (apparently) defined by the study, is considerably more common among religious believers than atheists. I’m pretty sure male sexual exclusivity is as well. And it’s anecdotal of course, but my personal experience suggests the idea that vegetarianism is associated with high intelligence is too risible to even argue about. Was this artlcle submitted by Alan Sokal?

    I have to confess, you’ve nearly tempted me to ante up $32 to read this one. Good work.

    • LemmusLemmus
      • J

        Thanks LL!

        I note that the definition of liberalism continues beyond Robin’s quote:

        “In the modern political and economic context, this willingness usually
        translates into paying higher proportions of individual incomes in taxes toward the government and its social welfare programs”

        That sounds like a willingness to confiscate larger proportions of other peoples’ resources for the welfare of such others, which is a good way to curry favor or buy influence, and hardly qualifies as “evolutionarily novel”.

        A more general question – is there any evidence that people with higher IQs are more likely to be liberal as we use the term in US politics? I know GSS data shows the more education you have the more likely you are to lean republican, albeit with a slight dropoff at the postgraduate level, though that requires using education as a proxy for intelligence.

  • Floccina

    What I find interesting is that in my past, some ideas that turned out to be very wrong seemed to held more widely by the intelligent. E.g. in the late 1970s the idea that resources would run out causing huge problems was widely held among the college educated but the more cynical high school drop out just laughed at the whole thing. For some reason the educated seem not cynical enough and the uneducated seem too cynical.

  • a critic

    I encourage others to read the original article. Perhaps there is much to learn from it. But it is worth noting that the author has previously made big research mistakes and failed to own up to them:

  • Andrew J.

    As for vegetarianism:

    I question the results here. A large part of the vegetarian community in the US is South Asian, who tend to be much more intelligent on average due to selection bias from their home countries.

    I think the association between liberalism and intelligence is very simple:

    Since you are smarter than others, you make better decisions than others. You see others around you making bad decisions, and conclude that someone smarter should be making decisions for them.

    • Phil Goetz

      “Since you are smarter than others, you make better decisions than others. You see others around you making bad decisions, and conclude that someone smarter should be making decisions for them.”

      That sounds very just-so. Why is that better than, “You see others around you making bad decisions, and conclude that you don’t want other people to make decisions for you”?

  • Wei Dai

    Here’s another possible explanation: it’s not smart folks signaling intelligence, but dumb folks signaling lack of intelligence. (See here for why they might want to do so.) The signaling is credible because the smart folks can’t convincingly espouse the dumb folks’ beliefs, because they can see the epistemic and/or ethical problems with those beliefs. (Which isn’t to say that the smart folks’ beliefs are true, just that they have fewer obvious-to-the-smart problems.)

  • bruce

    Other possibilities:

    A concerted effort by atheists to lay cuckoo’s eggs in religious nests by working to convert smart children of religious to atheism..

    Plutarch defined religion as the golden mean between atheism and superstition. Seeing religion as superstition is more or less the atheist theophany. (Epiphany?)

    And it’s perfectly true that Christianity, Judaism, Bhuddism, Islam were all founded by people in eras that assumed scientific theories now long gone mythical. No modern biologist or geologist or et cetera can believe Genesis as scientific fact.

  • Phil Goetz

    When studying the difference in the distributions of the beliefs of more and less intelligent people, you need to separate out the effects of the different means, and the different variances. More smart vegetarians, or more smart atheists, could just be an effect of smarter people having higher variance in their beliefs.

    You shouldn’t assume that the effect you’re studying is linear, or even monotonic, with IQ. For instance, I find that both very-low-IQ and very-high-IQ people are likely to hold liberal values in less esteem than is socially acceptable. Many of the views Robin defends on this blog are commonly associated with low-IQ people.

  • Josh

    Liberalism … [is] the genuine concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated others and the willingness to contribute larger proportions of private resources for the welfare of such others. Defined as such, liberalism is evolutionarily novel.

    This is hard to observe directly. What can be more easily observed is contributions to charity. It has been pointed out in other places that conservatives are significantly more generous than liberals in their charitable contributions, which suggests that conservatives are more liberal than liberals in the sense described by the authors. But it is not clear from the abstract whether, in ranking people as more or less liberal, the authors are actually using their willingness to contribute – as might be measured by their actual charitable contributions – or whether the authors are using the much more familiar sense of “liberal”, i.e. the sense of political affiliation, which is easily measured simply by asking people their political affiliations, and which is inversely related to willingness to contribute.

  • Skye

    Well the common threads are sort of scientific naturalism-type views and a strong sense of empathy. The latter requires a well developed social portion of the brain and the former requires good enough reasoning and visualization skills to tackle science or mathematics concepts. Being able to solve puzzles and guess the intent of the puzzle writer probably helps solve problems on iq tests.

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  • Adam Forni

    Great post Robin. I came straight to Overcoming Bias when I read this story elsewhere, and sure enough the discussion was already in full swing.

    Yes, these beliefs signal allegiance to the intelligent elite. But how did they get that way?

    Bias to vegetarianism and atheism demonstrates eggheads’ ability to sift through data and conclude the truth: vegetarianism is healthier, and religion is a social construct with limited appeal to the intelligent. Further, liberalism and vegetarianism show altruism to non-blood-related beings, a view made possible only with spare brain capacity (enough capacity to care for people/things outside one’s immediate circle, such as the long term survival of the human race). Several other reasons were well presented above.

  • Violet

    Much can be explained as in-group signaling.

    I think there is a danger of mixing two meanings of “good”/”smart” together:

    The evolutionary one: “good/smart” folks are the ones that have an evolutionary advantage (which currently seems to correlate with not being too smart, being religious, etc)

    And utilitarian “good/smart” which is more about happiness etc.

    I think that it makes little sense if we talk about “good rational choices” and then use “evolutionary advantages” to mean good things in other posts.

  • Nancy Lebovitz

    The problem (as pointed out by other commenters) is not having a broad enough sample base. I’d be willing to bet that there was a correlation between Marxism and IQ until the 50s or so.

    I wonder if you get a correlation between IQ and meat-eating for people who’ ve been raised in vegetarian religions.

    • Sticky

      In short, that IQ correlates with contrarianism, and therefore unpopular views will have higher-IQ proponents than popular views.

      Perhaps it could be tested by checking contrarian views we take to be obviously wrong for correlation with higher IQ. Opposition to vaccine, 9/11 trutherism, and the theory that the moon landing was a hoax come to mind. Perhaps mutually contradictory but equally unpopular would be less controversial but serve equally well. Materialism and reincarnation, for example.

      I doubt such studies have been done already, since only some views have adherents invested in the notion that they’re inherently smarter than the opposition, and go looking for confirmation.

  • John Sabotta

    The arrogant stupidity of this position is it’s own built-in refutation.

    (Hopefully, the extreme tactical stupidity of tying your pseudo-scientific field to a specific political/anti-religious position will eventually lead to disastrous results for “social psychology”. Perhaps his superstitious inferiors will one day get control of Mr. Kanazawa’s funding. Oops!)

    Oh well. Try again.

  • flenser

    “Liberalism … [is] the genuine concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated others and the willingness to contribute larger proportions of private resources for the welfare of such others. Defined as such, liberalism is evolutionarily novel.”

    Evolutionarily novel? Christianity beat liberalism to the punch by a couple of thousand years. (Whether that is a reasonable definition of liberalism also seems doubtful, but that’s at least debatable).

    • Buck Farmer

      Christianity has only been around roughly two thousand years. That’s definitely evolutionarily novel.

      • flenser

        A thing can only be “novel” (new, not formerly known) once. If Christianity introduced the concept of “genuine concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated others” two thousand years ago, then liberalism is not novel in calling for the same thing today. This remains true regardless of the length of the time interval in question. If Christianity had preceded liberalism by just one month, liberalism would still not be novel.

      • Microbiologist

        You are using the wrong def of ‘novel.’ Kanazawa or whoever simply means things that are relatively new — speaking on an evolutionary timescale. Whether christianity or liberalism did it first, the thing is relatively new nevertheless. Similarly, on some timescales mammals are a novel development.

      • flenser

        Describing liberalism as “relatively new on a evolutionary timescale” is a tautology, since it describes every aspect of humanity. I don’t think that’s a reasonable interpretation of what he was trying to say, or a proper use of the word “novel”. On the other hand, he does not come across as being very intelligent …

  • Joseph Hertzlinger

    Is libertarianism a matter of counter-signaling?

  • dlr

    “Liberalism … [is] the genuine concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated others and the willingness to contribute larger proportions of private resources for the welfare of such others.”

    I’ve got to disagree with defining this trait as ‘Liberalism’. A much more accurate description of this trait would be ‘Altruism’ or ‘Empathy’.

    Defining this trait as ‘Liberalism’ betrays your political assumptions.

    A ‘Conservative’ would object that when he DONATES HIS OWN MONEY to charity, he is more truly showing ‘Altruism’ than when a ‘Liberal’ votes in favor of more tax money being spent to accomplish the same end – since of course, what the Liberal is doing is voting to use the power of the state to force other people to pony up money in taxes to fulfill his charitable impulses – rather than digging into his own pocket and using his own money to accomplish the same end.

    The Conservative would say, ‘your GOAL is worthy, but the real test is if you are willing to contribute larger proportions of YOUR OWN private resources for the welfare of such others. It is a cheap sort of altruism being willing to contribute larger proportions of OTHER PEOPLE’S private resources for the welfare of such others.

  • stephen

    As many have argued most of these beliefs do not seem to have any adaptive value. My model still seems to favor signaling of some form. I would say that people use their beliefs to signal loyalty to other members of their group, whatever the salient groups happen to be. The question then becomes why do intelligent people tend to form allegiances with other intelligent people? Is there something adaptive about that?

  • Robin Hanson

    I added to the post.

  • w. billingsworth

    Extremely intelligent folks can convey their thoughts in simple language. Puffy words and lengthy, tortuous sentences are the earmarks of not-so-bright folks wishing to appear bright.

    Your writings, Robin, seem to be the latter. My, your mother must be so proud of you.

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