Brain activity, hormones, and other biological processes can determine our political ideology, but is it linked to intelligence?
The study of intelligence is one of the areas that generates the most controversy within the world of psychology. And politics is, perhaps, the field that causes the most conflicts and clashes of opinions in society in general. Therefore, if we put these two things together, the controversy is served.
Over the years, different studies have appeared in which it was analyzed whether there was any relationship between a person’s intellectual quotient (IQ) and their political orientation, that is, whether intelligence understands “right” or “left” .
However, these studies have been highly controversial due to their tendency to polarize the results obtained in the extreme and to make highly controversial sentences. Furthermore, the present limitations have made them incoherent among them, because, although most of them affirmed that those on the left were more intelligent, others swore precisely the opposite.
But why this difficulty in determining whether intelligence depends on our political tastes? In today’s article we will address this question to realize that both the development of ideology and that of intelligence are very complex biological processes, so if we put them together, we are facing one of the biggest problems to solve.
What do we understand by intelligence?
Before starting to relate it to political ideology, it is vitally important to understand what this abstract concept of “intelligence” is. And this is where all these studies that tried to relate CI to political ideology fail.
Intelligence is an aspect of the personality of each individual and the definition of it generates controversy among psychologists themselves. For each of us, “intelligence” can mean something else.
Is it the facility to understand situations and analyze them properly? Is it having logic? Is it easy to learn and memorize? Is it being able to understand what other people are feeling? Is it being a creative person? Is it being able to solve problems effectively? Is it critical thinking? Is it being able to reason things carefully? Is it being able to plan in the best possible way?
Well, in fact, it’s all of the above . Throughout history, internationally recognized psychologists have offered their own definitions of what intelligence is. And the sum of all of them is what we can understand as such.
Therefore, we must forget that an intelligent person has a “point” in the brain that is more active than normal. In intelligence, not only brain characteristics intervene – which obviously do – but also education, hormones, the family environment, society, the experiences we have lived …
All this affects our way of rationalizing, of facing problems, of relating to others, and, ultimately, what can be understood as “intelligence”.
Therefore, if it is already difficult to analyze where this intelligence comes from, it will be even more difficult to determine if there are “more” or “less” intelligent people, since each person will have more enhanced skills than others.
For example, a person may be very good at solving mathematical problems but not at all creative. Another person, on the other hand, is not good at math but overflows with creativity. Is the first person “smarter”? Is the second more so? The answer is that each of them is smart in their own way.
And that is where all the studies that want to determine if people on the left or on the right are more intelligent fail, since there is no duality “intelligent” – “not intelligent”.
What does it mean to “be on the left” and “be on the right”?
Another of the biggest controversies is in defining what is the left and what is the right. Broadly speaking, left-wing ideologies are usually linked to liberalism and right-wing ones, to conservatism .
By definition, a conservative person is characterized by a certain cognitive rigidity, that is, by wanting to follow established norms and respect the traditions, authorities and laws that have historically governed their territory.
A liberal person, on the other hand, by definition is a more progressive individual with a mentality more open to change, that is, with a tendency to question established norms and laws, as well as defending the idea that the government should have the least impact possible in society.
But this is just that: definitions. Trying to divide people between purely liberals or conservatives is very unsuccessful, since our brain does not have a “button” that is pressed and makes us automatically be on the left or on the right.
In other words, whether the parties are pigeonholed between the left or the right – and more recently the center – is a purely logistical issue, since they must be classified to facilitate voting. The problem is that this division of parties in a specific ideology has made us think that people follow the same classification. And, as we will see, this is not so.
Where does our political ideology come from?
As with intelligence, our political ideology is not reflected as a specific area of our brain that is more active . Our political preferences, although they also depend on brain characteristics, their impact is negligible if we compare them with the really determining factors.
That is, although studies show that there may be relationships between certain genes and the tendency to adopt specific ideological positions, the importance of the ideas we receive from parents, the social environment in which we live, the events that we experience in our lives , the working conditions in which we find ourselves … All these and many other factors contribute more to determining which party we want to vote in than our genes
And we say “which is the party we want to vote for”, but not our political ideology. The fact that so many factors, from our genetics to the environment in which we grow up, intervene in the development of our political position, there are many nuances. In other words, “being on the left” or “being on the right” does not exist as such.
Although there are people who adopt positions typical of the left (or the right) with more effusion, the truth is that normally our political ideology is on a spectrum. In other words: of course there are people who have a liberal (or conservative) position in all aspects of society and who, therefore, can call themselves “left” (or “right”), but, given the complexity in the development of our ideology, the most frequent is that people are not pigeonholed in a specific position.
That is, a person who votes for left-wing parties because they are the ones that, in general, best adapt to their way of thinking and understanding the world, it is possible that economically, this same person has a more conservative position.
In the same way, a person who votes for right-wing parties because they are the best suited to him, may have more liberal mentalities when it comes to immigration, for example.
In summary, the development of political ideology is an aspect of the personality in which many factors intervene, from our own brain characteristics to the impact that family has on our way of thinking. This means that we have many different ideologies but that, when voting, we must opt for one party or another.
That is to say, what are “left” or “right” are the political parties. People have a very complex personality and certain moral and ethical values that will be represented to a greater or lesser extent by these parties, but within us there is not a “button” on the left and another on the right.
So, is intelligence linked to political ideology?
As we have seen, the development of both intelligence and political ideology is a very complex process in which, although our genetic endowment influences (especially in the case of intelligence), the impact of the environment is much greater.
That is, what we live, the ideas that our family transmits to us, the circles of friends, the education we receive, the social class to which we belong … All this shapes both our intelligence and our political ideology.
Therefore, since both are influenced to a greater extent by external factors, it is very difficult to establish a direct relationship between the two . Finding that people of a particular ideology are smarter than others is a mistake for various reasons.
First, because we have already seen that intelligence is the set of many different skills, so the premise of separating between “more intelligent” and “less intelligent” is wrong. Secondly, because it is not correct to pigeonhole everyone in one political position or another. And finally, because ideology is more determined by what we receive from abroad than by our genes, so there will hardly be a relationship.
Both intelligence and political ideology are very complex aspects of the personality. Neither intelligence depends on political ideology nor vice versa . Each person will have specific intellectual gifts and certain ideological positions, but neither of them is the cause or consequence of the other.