Human Nature

Economist Says Higher-IQ People are Nicer and More Cooperative

How group intelligence predicts success

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By Garett Jones

We humans are a social species: we rely on each other to get things done. Whether it’s building a car, creating a happy marriage, or holding a potluck dinner at church, we usually need to cooperate in order to achieve the big successes in life.

Why is cooperation so hard? Because cooperating is often against your own best interest. When you’re going to a potluck dinner, the smart thing to do is to bring a bag of chips while sampling other people’s delicious casseroles. At some point before you arrive, you might think, “If everyone does that, then all we’ll have at the potluck is twenty bags of chips.” And that’s true enough, but you have no influence over whether those other nineteen people bring chips or casseroles, so why not do what’s best for yourself: chips it is.

But in real life, cooperation is fairly common, even when the temptation to betray is strong. Why? Economists found one solution in the early days of the field known as “game theory”: that once you turn a one-shot prisoner’s dilemma into a repeated game, it’s possible for selfish players to rationally cooperate with each other, not out of a sense of generosity but out of pure self-interest. This result—that repetition can turn lemons into lemonade—is known as the “folk theorem.” That’s because it seemed fairly obvious once people started thinking about it, and no one economist was really willing to take credit for the idea.

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One researcher—a political scientist, Robert Axelrod—went further than this. He saw repeated prisoner’s dilemmas (RPDs) everywhere in politics and society, and so he concluded that if he could find out how to get people cooperating rather than descending into bitter defection, he could help make the world a more peaceful place. It sounds a bit naive—but it was nothing of the sort. Axelrod’s research, summed up in his excellent book The Evolution of Cooperation, is still used by peace negotiators, labor-management mediators, and nuclear arms reduction experts. His is an agenda that has made the world a better, safer place. And it began by just taking the repeated prisoner’s dilemma seriously, so seriously that Axelrod decided to get a lot of social scientists together to play some games.

Axelrod ran a competition—not in real life, but on some 1970s- era computers. He invited social scientists, mathematicians, anyone interested to submit a simple computer program giving instructions to one of the electronic “players” in a two-person repeated prisoner’s dilemma game. The winner of the tournament would be the contestant whose program could win the most points when pitted against the other computer programs. The most points, naturally, clocked in when the other player cooperated while you defected; when both cooperated you got a good outcome, but not as good as when you were exploiting the other player.

So dozens of researchers proposed dozens of computer programs for the tournament. As you can imagine, some programs were quite sophisticated, looking for ways to dupe the other computerized player into cooperating so that the entrant could exploit his partner for at least a few rounds of the tournament. But not every program was sophisticated; in fact one program followed the simplest rule possible: “always cooperate.” Which computer program—which strategy—won the entire tournament? It’s known by the phrase: tit for tat.

Tit for tat combines an open right hand with an armed left hand. In a society filled with tit for tatters, people would always cooperate, not because those people were doormats or naïfs, but because any potential cheater would know that she would be quickly punished. So, tit for tat is a good strategy—something worth keeping in mind the next time you have an argument with the neighbors over who should fix the broken fence.

But Axelrod wanted to do more than just pinpoint a good computer program: he tried to distill the essence of what made tit for tat and a few similar strategies work so well in order to convey those lessons to the world. He came up with some principles for encouraging cooperation in repeated prisoner’s dilemma settings. Three of them matter for us: think of them as the Three P’s of the RPD. Players should

  1. Be patient: Focus on the long-term benefits of finding a way to cooperate—don’t just focus on the short-run pleasures, whether it’s the pleasure of exploitation or the pleasure of punishment. Axelrod calls this “extending the shadow of the future.”
  2. Be pleasant: Start off nice—make sure those bared teeth are part of a smile. And later in the game, take the ABBA approach, and take a chance on cooperating every now and then, even when things have gone south for a while.
  3. Be perceptive: Figure out what game you’re playing—know the rules, and know the benefits and costs of cooperation.

I claim that people with higher IQs will be better at all three. That higher-IQ players tend to follow the third piece of advice, “Be perceptive,” is almost obvious: higher-IQ individuals are just more likely to get it, to grok the key ideas, as sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein used to say. Not always, not perfectly, but on average individuals with high IQ are better at grokking the rules of the social game, they’re more socially intelligent. As dozens of psychology and economics experiments demonstrate, high IQ also tends to predict patient behavior. Those who see the patterns in the Raven’s Progressive Matrices also see the future. That means that in a repeated prisoner’s dilemma, they’ll tend to focus on the rewards of long-term cooperation, not the short-term thrills of punishment or exploitation.

My final claim is that higher-IQ people are nicer than most other people—at least when they’re in settings such as the repeated prisoner’s dilemma. Can that really be the case? You might expect higher-IQ people to be a little meaner in some cases—they might try to exploit people if they figure out a way to exploit them. That might be important in some settings, but there are interesting new experiments that show how high IQ predicts generosity.

Economist Aldo Rustichini and his coauthors gave IQ tests to a thousand people enrolled in a truck-driving school, and then they had them play a trust game. A typical trust game—first invented by my George Mason colleague Kevin McCabe and his coauthors—works like this. The game has just two players, each making one choice. They can’t see each other, and they never know who they’re actually playing; in most cases, they’re just facing a computer terminal. First, Player 1 starts with $5; he then decides how much of his money (if any!) to send to Player 2 and how much to keep for himself. If some of the money is sent over, the money sent magically triples in value. So if Player 1 sent over $2, Player 2 now has $6. Player 2 now gets to decide how much money to return to Player 1; she can return nothing and keep all $6, she can return all $6 and keep nothing for herself, or she can do something in between. Since McCabe and coauthors invented this experiment, it’s been run numerous times: most players return just about the amount that Player 1 sent over—in other words, the average person is trustworthy, but no philanthropist.

Most people are interested in the question of “Who reciprocates? Who is trustworthy?” But here we’re interested not in Player 2 but in Player 1: Who’s the biggest sucker? Who takes the chance on sending money over—without a formal contract, without being able to even see the other person? Wouldn’t we expect players with lower IQ scores to naively send over cash, in the hope that Player 2 will be generous? Wouldn’t we expect a higher-IQ Player 1 to figure out that Player 2 has no incentive to be kind? We might, but in fact, Rustichini found just the opposite: the higher-IQ students in truck-driving school sent over more money than their classmates with lower IQs. So smarter players are more likely to start off by playing nice. This result—that IQ predicts “generous” or “nice” behavior—was backed up by a German study, a team- effort problem: a few players are each given a few Euros, and they each have to decide how much to chip in to the pot. If the total amount chipped in is greater than, say, 10€, then the pot doubles, and the amount in the pot is split equally between all the players; if not, the pot evaporates, with nobody getting anything except the money they held out of the pot. In this study, higher-IQ players put more into the pot. They may have done it out of kindness to others, or they may have done it because they shrewdly calculated that they had a decent chance of being the donor who pushed the pot over the 10€ threshold, so it’s hard to tell what their motives were. But in any case, smarter players chipped in more, and what they chipped in helped everyone in the group. They were more pleasant.

Another study by Brown University economist Louis Putterman and his coauthors found still more evidence that higher-IQ individuals are more likely to start off by playing nice, by being generous team players. In this game, known as the public goods game, players individually decide how much of their own money to put in a metaphorical pot, the money doubles or triples, and then it gets divided up among the group. When you give money, you’re directly contributing to the public good. The game was repeated for a few rounds with the same team so players would have a chance to learn from each other, a chance to find a path to cooperation.

As this was run at Brown University, an Ivy League school where one might expect that almost all students are raised in incredibly advantaged environments, it might seem that differences in IQ scores would be irrelevant. But in Putterman’s cooperation experiment, IQ mattered. He and his coauthors found that higher- IQ students at Brown put more money in the pot during the early rounds of the game: the higher-IQ students were more pleasant early on. That’s the smart thing to do, because extra money early on can send a signal of kindness, of cooperativeness, to the other players. And it’s worth noting that in another part of the experiment, when the students could vote on a way to penalize low contributors, higher-IQ students were more likely to vote for a rule that would penalize the non-cooperators: so higher-IQ students were pleasant, but not naive.

Intelligence as a Way to Read the Minds of Others

But just how socially perceptive are higher-IQ people? After all, being nice in a lab experiment might not translate into real-world social interactions, and while IQ predicts social intelligence in surveys, it would be good to have a concrete test of social perceptiveness.

One test by economist David Cesarini and his coauthors illustrates the ability of higher-IQ individuals to understand the minds of others. The Keynesian Beauty Contest, as it is known, is a game in which all the players are asked to pick a number from zero to one hundred. A prize will be given to the person whose guess is closest to, say, one-half of the group’s average guess. In the event of a tie they might split the prize among the best guesses. So if almost everyone chose fifty but just one person chose thirty, that lower guess would win. If the players were all perfectly rational, and they knew that everyone else in the game was equally rational, they would realize that the winning answer would be the only number that is exactly one half of itself: zero.

But people aren’t perfectly rational and—here’s the good part— people who are more rational are more likely to be aware of just how irrational most people are. So while the weaker players would pick numbers close to randomly—guessing on average fifty or a little below—someone better-skilled might realize that the group combines some sharper players with some weaker players, and so submit a guess quite a bit lower than fifty. But isn’t there a chance that higher-IQ players make the mistake of thinking that everyone is as smart as they are? Or might they overthink the situation, foolishly submitting zero as the right answer? In a study of Swedes, Cesarini and coauthors found that players with the highest IQs submitted numbers that were low but not too low; indeed they gave answers that were strikingly close to the best possible answer. By contrast, players in the bottom of the IQ distribution gave answers that tended to be far too high. IQ predicted not just individual rationality but a better view into the minds of others. And later a second study came to the same finding using another IQ-type test.

Overall, mental test scores predict the ability to understand the minds of others.

It’s possible that the link between IQ and cooperation won’t seem like any great surprise to you: these experiments are just games, an IQ test is a game, and people who are good at one kind of game are often good at other games. But life is a game as well.

In the field of psychology it’s well-known that higher IQ predicts greater openness to new experiences, a greater willingness to try new things out. In addition to being more open to new things, the person with the higher test score is more likely to understand the rules, more likely to figure out when being nice is worth it and when it’s a fool’s errand, and more likely to figure out when it’s best to cut her losses when the investment in kindness isn’t paying off. Assessing the situation: that’s a skill one would expect to be more common among people with higher test scores. If an entire group of individuals with higher IQs are together for a reasonably long period of time, we should expect them to find more win-win outcomes, growing a bigger pie that they can squabble over later.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met people from all walks of life who’ve told me that smarter people lack common sense, that they overthink and overstrategize issues to their detriment. If that were the case then smarter groups would likely turn out to be “too big for their britches” and collapse into endless rounds of cheating; failed attempts at exploitation; and continual, costly punishment. Certainly that happens sometimes, but on average, that is not the case. Smarter groups tend to be more cooperative. This finding, which shows up both in lab experiments and in free-form negotiation studies, means that intelligent groups have more social intelligence. That helps explain why countries with high average test scores usually have stronger economies and more effective governments.

Excerpt from Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own by Garett Jones.(c) 2016 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Jr. University. All rights reserved. Published by Stanford University Press in hardcover and digital formats, No reproduction or any other use is allowed without the publisher’s prior permission.

2016 March 13

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  • All true and obvious in a sense, and there are many more dimensions to the story.

    I discovered Axlerod’s work in 1978, and was fascinated by all the implications you have outlined here (and a bunch more) that were clear then. I have been exploring many variations on strategic themes and levels in many social, business, political and intellectual contexts since then.

    Yesterday was something of a personal milestone, being five years since the last tumour following a diagnosis of terminal cancer. It’s almost 6 years since I was seated across the desk from a respected oncologist and heard him tell me that I had the most aggressive form of melanoma known, it responded to no known chemotherapy, there was nothing known to medical science that could alter the probability of my survival, and I could be dead in 6 weeks, had 50% chance of making 5 months, and a 2% chance of making 2 years. I watched him write the file note “palliative care only”.

    Having been through 2 years and several operations involving very fast growing and very painful cancer, there was something quite profound about accepting that I was very likely to die quite soon and very painfully.

    I decided to check the evidence for myself.

    What I discovered was profoundly disturbing at many different levels.

    At one level it rapidly became clear that the medical profession had sacrificed the most powerful tool available (the placebo effect) in the cause of making profit from sickness. There is a huge body of evidence that the placebo effect (which seems to be a complex set of effects in three major classes – as per Benedetti et al) is at least as effective as most drugs on the market, yet it is illegal to use alone. If that is not a triumph of profit over human health, then I don’t know what is.

    Once I dived deeply into the world of experiential evidence, there is a vast literature about the effects of diet on health, and a vast pressure from industry lobby groups to distort or subvert that evidence.

    I am clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that our society is much more about the needs of money and capital than it is about people, and that is a very short term and high risk strategy that itself has many of the attributes of cancer.

    Cancer is nothing more that an element of a cooperative (the cooperative cells of a human body) taking resources from the whole for the exclusive use of themselves without regard to the impact on the whole (or the long term impact on themselves – cancer is a very short term and dead end strategy).

    If that is not an accurate description of the incentive structures present in a market based economy, then I don’t know what is.

    Things that are genuinely abundant in a market have no value, however important they are.

    That is not how our bodies work.

    The cooperative that is the vast collection of human cells that makes up each and every one of us works at many different levels to ensure that every cell has all the air, water and food it needs.

    That is basic – it is breathing, drinking and eating.

    That is survival 101 for bodies, and all the cells within – every cell.

    As a society, we don’t do that.

    We pretend that making each cell compete for survival is natural.

    It isn’t! Not if one is using the term cooperative.

    It is a distortion of the systemic context of both biology and evolution.

    Cooperative life forms work together to ensure all have what is essential, and all have the freedom to do whatever they choose within the context of the needs of the group as a whole. As you have so clearly note above, Axlerod showed that secondary strategies are required to maintain cooperation. What you have failed to note is that biology and logic both clearly demonstrate that meeting the survival needs of every unit is a fundamental precondition to sustained cooperation. One cannot maintain cooperation by forcing the units into competition for survival (which is what “free markets” do).

    Freedom involves responsibility, at many levels!

    Freedom is not some childish following of whim.

    Freedom is about acknowledging the context of the needs of all others in the group.

    Freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin in this sense.

    Our society needs to be like our body, and ensure the life and liberty of every cell (every person), no exceptions.

    I managed to survive the “terminal cancer” that was present in my body by choosing to over-ride all the wants and desires that my body had learned.

    I did that because I had (and have) evidence, beyond reasonable doubt, that it was required for survival.

    Money and markets certainly provided a means of signalling that had many useful attributes, as Hayek and many others have noted, and our modern means of communication are so much more powerful than any market signals. Variations on Snowden’s SenseMaker toolset could provided many orders of magnitude greater signal strength than markets.

    Many others have falsely concluded that the historical association of freedom with markets is a causal one. It clearly is not.

    So there we are at a time of necessary transition.

    We have all the conceptual tools in our toolboxes.

    We just need to refine the memes.

  • Jan de Jonge

    The players in most of the games are conditional cooperators. They cooperate as long as they expect that the other player will reciprocate their move. An elementary aspect of the play is trust. How trustworthy is the other player, will he/she not suddenly stop playing the game and take the biggest share. This aspect is treated in the Keynesian Beauty contest, but this contest is a test of rationality rather than of trust. And if the player with the highest IQ is the person who acts most rational, than according to game theory he will be the first to defect. He is likely to demonstrate first that he/she is not naive. Thus a high IQ is, when this reasoning is sound, not likely to guarantee cooperation.

    • Garett Jones

      In the part of my book after this excerpt, I review the results on IQ in repeated prisoner’s dilemmas: I wrote one paper on this and coauthored another. The findings so far suggest that smarter individuals aren’t more cooperative in an RPD, but smarter pairs of players are. From the abstract of our coauthored paper:

      “We consider cognitive ability, patience, risk tolerance, and the Big Five personality measures as predictors of individual and average group choices in a ten-round repeated prisoner’s dilemma. We find that a pair’s average cognitive ability measured by the Raven’s IQ test predicts average cooperation rates robustly and average earnings more modestly.”

      Aldo Rustichini and coauthors found even stronger results in a game with a random endpoint:

      “The initial cooperation rates are similar [comparing high and low IQ pairs], it increases in the groups with higher intelligence to reach almost full cooperation, while declining in the groups with lower intelligence.”

      Indeed, classic lab experiments and less-structured negotiation games alike find that cognitive ability predicts pro-social behavior. There’s a lit review of such studies now, Sharma/Bottom/Elfenbein:,5

      I actually start off my book with one of negotiation studies, one run at Vanderbilt. The chapter is free here:

      • Jan de Jonge

        What I have learned from the references is that not one’s IQ as such explains cooperation but that persons with a higher IQ learn better how to operate strategically. (I couldn’t read your chapter because the page was not loading)
        What I wonder is what the purpose of these investigations is. I understand from the abstract of your book that your point is that these investigations show how important the average level of skills (IQ) is within a nation. And that this level can be raised through nutrition and schooling, which will raise a nation’s GNP.
        I agree and wonder whether this is still a contested issue within the USA. I thought that this is since many decades worldwide seen as an established fact .

        • Garett Jones

          Actually, IQ in any form is quite controversial to discuss–people lose their jobs for saying socially-disapproved things about IQ. And there’s little academic work arguing rigorously that IQ substantially improves governance. Me, Rindermann, Thompson, Lynn, a few others…that’s about it!

          Future Nobelist Acemoglu frames a related debate as education *versus* institutions…he certainly never tries out “IQ partly causes institutions.” And even in the IQ-friendly experimental econ field, it’s almost unheard of to run experiments looking at *group* traits…I recently had a well-meaning referee who just couldn’t fathom why we would look at group traits as a predictor of game outcomes rather than individual traits.

          All of this is changing slowly, it’ll take time. Quite a few people tell me privately they see the value in my work, but don’t want to say so publicly. That’s the world we live in.

          • Jan de Jonge

            I know that discussions about IQ are highly controversial but only when they are connected with discussions about ethnic groups or when it is said that they are genetically determined and such kind of discussions.
            But I don’t think that it is morally reprehensible to present research that concludes that smarter people have a longer time horizon (don’t discount the future as much) as people who are not so smart (however, there is of course the argument that people who are not that smart, have a lower education, a smaller income and therefore can’t afford to postpone spending) or that smarter people are better in learning from their environment and adapt their strategies than people who are not that smart. That is what evolution tells us. And it is not at all improper to say that a better educated labor force will be more productive than a less educated workforce.
            Still, there are two warnings; the first is that there are persons who can be highly intelligent but cannot cooperate (autistic people for instance), second, why would you do research that relates an IQ with all kinds of capabilities? The IQ of an adult is a highly fixed personal trait, that cannot be changed, and no one has chosen his/her own IQ. Thus what is the added value of such research. Why not spend your time and money on research that investigates the education that different groups of the population receive and how to improve it? For example, why not do research to investigate how much money is invested in vocational training compared to higher eduction? Maybe, this aspect also makes investigations with IQ as the explanatory variable suspect.

          • Garett Jones

            As I remind people in Chapter 9 of Hive Mind, immigration policy probably changes a nation’s average test scores. It’s also good to know which target to aim for, and now it is clear that test scores are an important target, much more important than years of education. So future research should look for ways to raise test scores, perhaps through medical research, and possibly (especially in the poorest countries) through new education methods.

            A shorter answer: The truth is worth knowing, especially the truth about the deep causes of prosperity.

          • Jan de Jonge

            My first inclination when I would hear that test scores among immigrants differ from the nation’s average is that the test scores are culturally biased or that the parents of the children that are tested are very low educated and the children miss the support that other children get. Anyway, this is the attitude in the Netherlands. The solution is, of course, to intensify the educational efforts. In my view test scores and educational level highly correlate.
            Test to raise scores by medical tests would be controversial. It brings eugenics into memory and this kind of research would not be allowed. In the Netherlands you would not find anyone who would finance it, I guess.

          • Jannik Thorsen

            That would perhaps be your first inclination. But all research points to the fact IQ has a substantial genetic basis. There is nothing that indicates that IQ is indefinetely malleable. Nor that IQ is equally distributed in all populations across the World.
            For this reason the hypothesis that IQ at least partially determines governance, is extremely controversial. It more or claims that the reason why certain nations are plagued with bad institutions, low Growth, etc. is at least partially caused by low average IQ, and that there is Little that can be done about this specific factor unless eugenic measures are considered.
            This naturally goes against the egalitarian worldview that is dominant in the western World, and for this reason it will remain a taboo subject. Both IQ research that considers group differences and eugenic policies are simply off the table in mainstream discourse.

          • Jan de Jonge

            You write that all research points to the fact that IQ has a substantial genetic basis. What is substantial? No one denies that IQ also has a genetic basis. Nor is it denied that the IQ is uneven distributed within a population. A tougher issue is your assertion that IQ is uneven distributed between populations. Here the lack of references to literature is paid for. How do you define IQ, how do you measure it? How do you define a population? You talk amazingly light-heartedly about eugenic measures. What is your age? Have you learned your history lessons? And you say that an egalitarian worldview prevents these measures. I didn’t know that egalitarianism is associated in one way or another with eugenics. But if egalitarianism has prevented it, hurrah for egalitarianism!

          • Jannik Thorsen

            Leading psychometricians claim that IQ is between 0.4 and 0.8 heriditable, I would call that “substantial”.


            “The new evidence reviewed here points to some genetic component in
            Black–White differences in mean IQ. ”
            It must suffice to point to how professionals working in the field define intelligence and the IQ measure. It is not my job to define it.
            I dont think I talk especially lighthearted about eugenic measures. I am merely pointing out the logical implications. If IQ differences between races or ethnic groups are in large part due to genetics, than there is very Little chance of creating near equal outcomes regarding a host of social and economic variables. Unless eugenic measures are employed. The current worldview reigning in the western World, which is based on an assumption that there are no inherent differences between ethnic groups when it comes to intelligence, more or less rules this out. This is just stating the facts more or less.
            What my age is or if I have learned my history lesson(what ever that is supposed to mean), is entirely irrelevant. I probably know more about the history of eugenics than most people, knowing the facts is what matters . You seem very emotionally invested in the subject, which unfortunately can be a barrier to cool and leveled headed thinking on controversial matters like these.

          • Jan de Jonge

            I’m glad that you also belief that writing on racial differences in IQ is a controversial issue. I have not yet read the paper by Rushton and Jensen that is almost 60 pages long. But I have read about the book of Hernstein and Murray that addresses the same problem. And I think that this book formulates in a clear way the issue that you brought to my attention.

            I start with a short summary of the “the Bell Curve” (Hernstein and Murray, 1994).
            In this book Murray and Herrnstein write that IQ tests, measure an essential human quality, general intelligence. During the second half of the 20th century, this quality has risen to supreme importance, because society has become increasingly complex. The intelligent have therefore gone through an “invisible migration,” from points of origin all over the class system to a concentration at the top of business, government, and the professions. They are likely to become ever more dominant and prosperous. The unintelligent are falling further and further behind. Because intelligence is substantially inherited, nothing is likely to reverse this process. Blacks are overrepresented among the unintelligent. Any efforts government might make to improve the economic opportunities of poor people, especially poor black people, are likely to fail, because their poverty is so much the result of inherited low intelligence. About the best that can be done for these people is an effort to create a world of simple, decent, honorable toil for them.
            Thus the crucial message in the Bell Curve is that there are racial differences in IQ. And that these racial differences are determined by genetically factors in the order of 60-80%. Of course this message has met severe criticism.

            Nicholas Lehman argued that what Herrnstein and Murray used to measure as IQ is actually a measure of education as well as intelligence. All the people tracked in the National Longitudinal Study of Youth took the Armed Forces Qualifying Test, which Herrnstein and Murray treat as a good measure of intelligence. Because the material covered in the test includes subjects like trigonometry, many academic critics of The Bell Curve have objected to its use as a measure only of IQ and not at all of academic achievement. (The Bell Curve Flattened, Slate Match, January, 1997)

            In reaction to the growing controversy the Board of Scientific Affairs of the American Psychological Association formed a ‘task force’ to investigate the conclusions of the book. Some of the conclusions supported the role and significance of the IQ. But it was doubted whether racial differences could be ascribed to genetic factors alone. (see APA, “Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns”)

            The Council for Responsible Genetics wrote in 2016 that no set of genes or gene markers has been conclusively linked to the development of intelligence and specific genes that have been studied are primarily those believed to be linked to the development of brain size. Yet no link between human brain size and intelligence has been established. Thus the role of genetically factors –if any- remains a black box.

            While the authors were reported throughout the popular press as arguing that these IQ differences are genetic, they write in the introduction to Chapter 13 that “The debate about whether and how much genes and environment have to do with ethnic differences remains unresolved,” and they concluded this chapter writing: “It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences.” And; “What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate.” It is very strange that this open and frank conclusion is followed by the prescription:

            “The technically precise description of America’s fertility policy is that it subsidizes births among poor women, who are also disproportionately at the low end of the intelligence distribution. We urge generally that these policies, represented by the extensive network of cash and services for low-income women who have babies, be ended”. And: “Affirmative action, in education and the workplace alike, is leaking a poison into the American soul.” (Scientific American, February 1995)

            Later in his life Murray (Hernstein died short after the publication) has written stranger, unproven things, as “no woman has been a significant original thinker in any of the world’s great philosophical traditions. In the sciences, the most abstract field is mathematics, where the number of great female mathematicians is approximately two (..)”.”Where Are the Female Einsteins?” (2005), And in the April 2007 issue of “Commentary Magazine” he wrote that the disproportionate representation of Jews in the ranks of outstanding achievers, warrants that “the Jews are God’s chosen people”.

            Of course, these remarks alone don’t disprove “The Bell Curve”, that is done by the many critical judgments by scientists, but they indicate that racial and even sexual differences in IQ belong to his mental worldview.
            My main objection to this kind of research is that it promotes feelings of racial superiority on the basis of results that, even if they were true, cannot be changed. I cannot stretch my imagination far enough to figure out what eugenic measures could look like, thus the only effect in my opinion is that people are socially excluded. This is playing with fire.

            I don’t think I have convinced my opponent that these studies about racial differences in IQ are not robust and socially useless. When you have a superior opinion about yourself (your race), you are not open for rational doubts about what you consider are facts.

          • Jannik Thorsen

            Brain size or cranial volume is correlated with intelligence as measured by IQ tests, although the relationship is not strong.

            It is ultimately important to know the genes involved in determining intelligence, but it is not essential for establishing a causal relationship between intelligence and genetics.
            There is very little to suggest that IQ scores just reflect educational level. If that were the case we could just solve the problem of low IQ with the help of many years of education. No data avaliable suggests that this is sufficient in any way.
            What ever Hernstein might have written on sex differences in intelligence, pertaining to the far right end of the bell curve(“genious” level IQ), its really not decisive for establishing a relationship between IQ and genetics, nor between IQ genetics and ethnic/racial group differerentials.
            That you think these facts are “socially useless” does not change one iota regarding how reality is cosntructed. Neither is it evident that race differences in IQ caused by genetics, would lead to feelings of racial superiority. People who are inclined to these kinds of feelings will feel superior for a host of other reasons.
            Nor is it evident that these facts will in itself lead to social exclusion, it is happening anyway whether we adhere to blank slatetism or not.
            No you have not convinced me one bit as your arguments are not sound, and mainly rely on ideology above everything else. You are also disenginously suggesting that I harbor feelings of racial superiority, due to me believing that the hereditarian position is true. And that this belief is clouding my judgement
            A completely baseless accusation. Let me suggest to you that you focus on what is actually written instead of conjuring up strawmen.

          • Jan de Jonge

            First you accuse of me of being unable to disprove your ‘facts’. In response I cite different sources (the APA, the CRG, Slate Match, Scientific American) and you reply that my arguments are not sound. You don’t refute the arguments that I borrowed from these sources. You just ignore them. Probably you don’t care.

            Yesterday you wrote: “Brain size or cranial volume is correlated with intelligence as measured by IQ tests, although the relationship is not strong.” You take us back more than hundred years ago; for you Lombroso is apparently not far away. And you have also never heard of Stephen Jay Gould (see the chapter about ‘Women’s Brains’ in “The Panda’s Thumb”, 1980)

            You also wrote: When IQ scores just reflect educational levels, we could solve the problem with education. “No data available suggests that this is sufficient in any way”. Here is some data: One study tracked the scores of African-American five-year olds on the math section of the National Assessment of Educational Progress between 1978 and 1990. Results showed substantial gains over the twelve-year period. (CRG;

            You write that: “Nor is it evident that these facts ( genetically differences in IQ) in will in itself lead to social exclusion, it is happening anyway…” It is not evident, but it will happen anyway!? And you do not feel responsible?

            You pose as someone who reluctantly accepts controversial facts, because truth must prevail. But you do not harbor feelings of racial superiority. Four days ago you wrote: “Little that can be done about this specific factor (low average IQ) unless eugenic measures are considered”. That is just a fact. It does not promote feelings of superiority in any way.

            The longer this ‘discussion’ takes, the more aggressive is your tone. You only accept your own ‘facts’ and start using ad hominem arguments. It is time to leave.

          • Jannik Thorsen

            The only thing you have done is site some sources(which you mostly have no links to, making it impossible for me to ascertain the truth of your claims) which take a skeptical stance towards the claim that genetics explain Group differences in IQ. The leading psychometricians(which i linked to) claim otherwise, something which you choose to ignore. Maybe because you just dont care. Two can play this game apparently.
            It is not necessary to know which precise genes are involved when calculating heretibility estimates. Just as we can infer that genetics matter for obesity proness and height, without knowing the exact genes responsible. Claiming otherwise is just attempting to raise the bar.
            No one is denying that environmental factors like education, or nutrition for that matter, has a positive effect on IQ, especially in childhood. But there is no evidence to suggest that it can explain away the gap completely or even substantially.
            Stephen J. Goulds musings on the subject of psychometrics are perhaps an entertaining read, but it is not based on sound evidence nor on the latest reseach. The research I linked to on the correlation between brain size and IQ is fairly new using the newest research techniques and knowledge in the field. You just ignored it, and site Gould from 1980 as a substitute.
            When I site a study that confirms there is a moderate relationship between IQ and cranial volume than you conjure up emotional laden images of Lambroso and other examples of outdated science. A pointless exercise that will only derail the conversation further.
            I claim that a racial IQ gap will remain, absent eugenic practices, which makes me somehow responsible for promoting social exclusion according to you. A completely baseless assertion, but offcourse you are not acting aggressively, you are playing nice all along.
            When all I was claiming is that AWARENESS of these facts, between IQ and genetics(something you apparently oppose) will not change anything about the social realities unless certain policies are enacted that are firmly grounded in the facts. Policies which there at present is a huge resistance towards employing. This is just how it is, whether one endorses eugenic policies is a completely different topic.
            You start of by attacking me, accusing me of being a racial supremacist, and then scorn me for defending myself. And then complain that I am acting aggressively, this is a very dishonest way of conducting a conversation. So yes, it is time for you to leave, as you bring nothing to the table.

  • The article is fascinating and informative. The book title is far more provocative, and is a topic that has intrigued me for decades — how our cohort affects our potentials for development, fulfillment … and, particularly, intelligence.

    However, I would like to suggest that there are some probable misconceptions in the formulation of the problem as posed in the research. It seems to me that one of these is (generally) regarded by science as relatively absolute: that players are and see themselves as isolates. This may be true in some cases to varying degrees, but it cannot be true in actual relationships unless extrinsically enforced (as in research such as mentioned here).

    As is often the case with both science and the media we end up deriving from it, the findings are data. Data is interesting. But data does not produce its own conclusions. And here, I must suggest from my own research and experience… that the conclusions are .. at best, confused.

    I would also like to point out that articles like this may inadvertently reinforce lethal biases and models of humanity and relation, and this damage is exaggerated wildly by the ‘added authority’ of ‘published research’. The problem is: data isn’t interpretation, and this interpretation is … at best misguided, and based on ideas that are … economic inventions. What place have these in actual relationships? The authority is thus misplaced, and our entire worldview is thus falsely redirected in a way that damages, rather than extends our understanding, intelligence, humanity and potential.

    My position is this: it is not »merely that more intelligent people are necessarily more kind or generous, which may or may not prove out on more careful and intelligent analysis — rather, it is that intelligent people (not ‘smart’, »intelligent) are aware of a feature of reality that analysts misframe at the first move. Intelligent people realize that there is not really any such thing »as an individual. And so, rather than doing a bunch of math about discrete players, they are aware of something every organism on Earth understands:

    We »invent each other in relation. This is the ‘active creative’ position, rather than the ‘passive-speculative’ profiteer. For the intelligent person, the possibility of »relational profit always outweighs the test-token that the researches are depending upon for their analytical purchase. So, essentially, the intelligent people »are playing an entirely different game. A game that has nothing to do with static identities, roles, or rewards. An invention. A composition. Where the ‘frameworks’ serve, primarily, to inform us how to warp, transform, or leverage them… to experience actual humanity, actual relation, and actual presence in and as living beings on Earth.

    This is a fundamental difference in play, whether or not the idea that ‘intelligent people are more kind’ proves out…

  • Swami

    I loved your book, Garett, and agree completely.

    I think IQ is one of those politically-incorrect mine fields which people avoid, at the expense of our greater understanding of the world and humanity. This avoidance and paradigm of explaining-the-issue-away is leading into all types of social pathologies and institutional dead ends. Thanks for starting the process of looking into this critical issue.

    • Garett Jones

      Many thanks for reading Hive Mind, very glad you enjoyed it!

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