Staff member


A provocative new study has found a link between left-wing beliefs and both higher intelligence quotient (IQ) scores and genetic markers believed to be associated with higher intelligence.

As psychology researchers at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities report in their new paper, published in the journal Intelligence, numerous intelligence tests found that being more clever "is correlated with a range of left-wing and liberal political beliefs."

"Our results," the paper's authors wrote, "imply that being genetically predisposed to be smarter causes left-wing beliefs."

As with all research on human intelligence, the work is fraught. There are different types of intelligence, and it's hard to draw the line between nature and nurture, since education clearly causes IQ test scores to rise.

Still, the paper's methodology is compelling. The UM authors gleaned results from a study of more than 200 families, some of which included only biological children, others only adopted children, and a smaller portion of which had both adopted and biological kids.

"We find both IQ and genetic indicators of intelligence, known as polygenic scores, can help predict which of two siblings tends to be more liberal," study author Tobias Edwards told PsyPost in a fascinating interview about the research. "These are siblings with the same upbringing, who are raised under the same roof.

"This implies that intelligence is associated with political beliefs, not solely because of environment or upbringing, but rather that the genetic variation for intelligence may play a part in influencing our political differences," he added. "Why is this the case? I do not know."

"Using both measured IQ and polygenic scores" — the latter are genetic profiles that determine all kinds of things, from how one looks and to their risk of acquiring disease or expressing mental illness — the research measured "for cognitive performance and educational attainment" and then determined whether there was a correlation between intelligence, genetics, and political affiliation.

On the politics side, they tested for five variables: "political orientation, authoritarianism, egalitarianism, social liberalism, and fiscal conservatism."

"Polygenic scores predicted social liberalism and lower authoritarianism, within-families," the paper continues. "Intelligence was able to significantly predict social liberalism and lower authoritarianism, within families, even after controlling for socioeconomic variables."

Still, Edwards cautioned, political beliefs are complex constructs of a particular historical moment that will never be totally reduceable to any one variable.

"This surprise highlights an important point; there is no law saying that intelligent people must always be supportive of particular beliefs or ideologies," he told PsyPost. "The way our intelligence affects our beliefs is likely dependent upon our environment and culture. Looking back across history, we can see intelligent individuals have been attracted to all sorts of different and often contradictory ideas."

:Intellectuals have flirted with and been seduced by dangerous ideologies and tyrannical regimes," he added. "Many smart people have believed ideas that are downright stupid. Because of this George Orwell doubted that the intelligence of partisans could be any guide to the quality of their beliefs, declaring that, ‘one has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.'"