Are Liberals Smarter? Study Indicates The Answer Is Yes

Author: November 19, 2012 8:42 am

Two interesting new studies have come out during this election season, which might have liberals and conservatives at odds more than ever.

Last year, a study done at Brock University suggested that a lower I.Q. goes hand in hand with both racism and conservative beliefs. The findings are published in Psychological Science and the study is entitled “Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes: Lower Cognitive Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup Contact.”

Essentially, the study examines the impact of cognitive ability on social attitudes like prejudice and conservatism. The authors predicted that a lower cognitive ability, as measured by the subject’s intelligence quotient or I.Q., would lead to greater social prejudice in adulthood. The authors also hypothesized beforehand that the social prejudice would lead the subjects to endorse “right-wing ideologies”, namely “social conservatism” and “right-wing authoritarianism.”

Turns out, the authors were right on all counts. In the U.K., people with lower I.Q.’s in childhood were accurately predicted to be racists in adulthood and were also generally politically conservative. A second set of data from the U.S. found that people with lower cognitive abilities possessed more homophobic sentiments. Interestingly, the results were controlled for education and socioeconomic status, making the results applicable to a wider spectrum of people. The authors wound up suggesting “a heightened focus on cognitive ability in research on prejudice and a better integration of cognitive ability into prejudice models.”


The lead author, Dr. Gordon Hodson, believes that the results are cyclical: people with lower I.Q.’s tend to be more prejudiced, which leads them more readily toward conservatism, which is resistant to change, which eventually, leads to more prejudice.

Another recent study gives us an idea of why these results might be so: ProCon.org assembled a list of 13 different peer-reviewed studies which conclude that liberals and conservatives might not just have different talking points, they actually have different brains.

Each of the studies examined different elements of dissimilarity between liberals and conservatives and had interesting results. Democrats, it seems, have a greater tolerance for uncertainty have because of their larger anterior cingulate cortexes, and Republicans are more sensitive to fear, because of their larger right amygdalas. Psychiatrist Greg Appelbaum also found that conservatives are more likely to avoid individual self-harm, while liberals are more likely to avoid collective group harm. The researchers said it was important to keep in mind that it might not be that a person’s predisposition to certain neurological markers leads to their political affiliation and in fact, it may be a “chicken or the egg issue”, where a person’s political affiliation can actually change their physiological traits.

The Brock study might make more sense in the light of these findings, as well. Dodson noted that conservative ideologies lend themselves to “structure and order” and might be better suited to those with less cognitive capacity. Dodson believes it’s an unfortunate consequence that those same features also contribute to more prejudice.
It’s interesting to find that our differences may not just be superficial and political, but rather, may be physiological. But this begs the question, what do we do? Are liberals and conservatives destined to keep talking past each other? So far, no study has been released teaching us how exactly to reach across the aisle and work with each other, so that might just be something we have to learn for ourselves.
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