Brain Scan
An undated image of the human brain taken through scanning technology. Reuters

In a new study, bound to stir controversy, researchers have found that people with low IQ tend to have socially conservative ideals and prejudiced attitudes toward others, including people of different races and homosexuals.

The new study published earlier this month in the journal Psychological Science found that British children with lower general intelligence factor (similar to IQ) are more likely to be racially prejudiced as adults.

We found that lower general intelligence in childhood predicts greater racism in adulthood, and this effect was largely mediated via conservative ideology, lead researchers Gordon Hodson and Michael A. Busseri of Brock University, Canada, wrote in the abstract of the paper.

We proposed and tested mediation models in which lower cognitive ability predicts greater prejudice, an effect mediated through the endorsement of right-wing ideologies (social conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism) and low levels of contact with out-groups.

The study was conducted using two large-scale, nationally representative U.K. data sets (N = 15,874), and a secondary analysis of a U.S. data set. The secondary analysis confirmed the effect of poor reasoning skills behind homophobia, caused by authoritarianism and low intergroup contacts.

The conservative attitudes were measured by whether people agreed with statements like Family life suffers if mum is working full-time, and Schools should teach children to obey authority.

Attitudes towards other races were assessed with statements like I wouldn't mind working with people from other races, which served to capture overt racism, while excluding people with unconscious and covert racial biases.

Our results suggest that cognitive abilities play a critical, albeit underappreciated, role in prejudice, the researchers told LiveScience.

Since there have been studies which established links between low levels of education and higher levels of prejudice, studying intelligence seemed a logical next step, the researchers said.

Simply put, the research findings are nothing short of calling social conservatives dumb. To be precise, the study, by and large, implicates social conservatives rather than the political conservatives.

However, the researchers have pointed out that the study doesn't imply that all conservatives are stupid and liberals intelligent.

There are multiple examples of very bright conservatives and not-so-bright liberals, and many examples of very principled conservatives and very intolerant liberals, Hodson said.

LiveScience has published an article about the study, discussing its potential to upset people. They've pulled off the trifecta of controversial topics, Brian Nosek, a social and cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia who was not involved in the study, told Live Science. When one selects intelligence, political ideology and racism and looks at any of the relationships between those three variables, it's bound to upset somebody.

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