Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Sophisticated deviants: Intelligence and radical economic attitudes

Sophisticated deviants: Intelligence and radical economic attitudes. Chien-AnLin, Timothy C.Bates. Intelligence, Volume 95, November–December 2022, 101699. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.intell.2022.101699


• Tested links of higher cognitive ability to more economic extremism.

• Two N = 700 pre-registered studies and a UK national cohort (N = 11,563).

• Cognitive ability predicted economic extremism (β = 0.4 to 0.12).

• Predicts intellectuals falling far left and right of the mainstream.

• Heterodox values needed to avoid runaway capture in intellectual groups.

Abstract: Conservative economic attitudes have been theorized as symptoms of low cognitive ability. Studies suggest the opposite, linking more conservative views weakly to higher, not lower, cognitive ability, but with very large between-study variability. Here, we propose and replicate a new model linking cognitive ability not to liberal or conservative economics, but to economic extremism: How far individuals deviate from prevailing centrist views. Two large pre-registered studies in the UK (N = 700 & 700) and the British Cohort Study dataset (N = 11,563) replicated the predicted association of intelligence with economic deviance (β = 0.4 to 0.12). These findings were robust and expand the role of cognitive ability from tracking the economic consensus to influencing support for (relatively) extremist views. They suggest opportunities to understand the generation and mainstreaming of radical fringe social attitudes.

Keywords: Economic ideologyEconomic conservatismIntelligenceRedistributionContext theoryExtremism theory

1. Introduction

Intellectuals are responsible for economic and philosophical ideas as divergent as communism, fascism, nihilism, anarchism, and libertarianism, and often in extreme forms (Sesardic, 2016). If cognitive ability has any association with intellectual output, the question arises: How might cognitive ability be associated with such apparently divergent intellectual extremes? Recently, a productive model for studying this question has developed around measures of economic conservatism and support for economic redistribution. While this reveals motives such as malicious envy accounting for around half of support for redistribution (Lin & Bates, 2021Lin & Bates, 2022Sznycer et al., 2017), research has also implicated higher cognitive ability as reducing support for economic redistribution (Caplan & Miller, 2010Carl, 2014Lewis & Bates, 2018Mollerstrom & Seim, 2014Oskarsson et al., 2015). Other studies, however, have found no association or even the reverse association (Choma, Sumantry, & Hanoch, 2019Pennycook, Cheyne, Barr, Koehler, & Fugelsang, 2014Sterling, Jost, & Pennycook, 2016). A recent meta-analysis supports a small but significant net association in favour of economic conservatism (Jedinger & Burger, 2021). This program of existing research has been restricted, however, to treating economic attitudes as a single increasing or decreasing function of cognitive ability. Here, we propose and test a quite different linkage of cognitive ability to economic attitudes: That intelligence is associated with deviance of view, with equal likelihood of extreme support for economic conservatism and dramatic opposition to economic conservatism. Before presenting three tests of this idea, we briefly background existing research linking cognitive ability to economic attitudes.