Prejudiced People Are Stupid

Prejudiced people are stupid. That’s not me pre-judging. That’s science.

An article published in the Journal of Psychological Science, and reported in Live Science says children who have low IQs tend to become prejudiced adults who are drawn to socially conservative beliefs that – in turn – encourage prejudice, adherence to hierarchy and authority, and promote resistance to change.

The researchers suggest that low intelligence makes it difficult to grasp the complexity of the world, which could explain the appeal of oversimplifications like, “Poor people are lazy.”

But you also have to wonder if the appeal of prejudice comes partly from a desire to feel like you are better (and smarter?) than someone.

John Dean wrote a book (which he had begun writing with Barry Goldwater just before Goldwater died) called Conservatives Without Conscience. These two conservatives presented a list of characteristics that are common among right-wing authoritarian “followers” (as opposed to “leaders”). The traits seem to fall into two categories: those that would appeal to the less intelligent and those that are just mean. Right-wing authoritarian “leader” traits fell almost entirely into the “mean” category.

Examples of beliefs and behaviors that fit well with not thinking too hard include: conventional, submissive to authority, highly religious (follow God’s authority), prejudiced, narrow-minded, inconsistent and contradictory (“Get your government hands off my Medicare!”) and having little self-awareness.

The “mean” list includes these traits: prejudiced, aggressive on behalf of authority, dogmatic, mean-spirited, intolerant, bullying, and highly self-righteous. All suggest a desire to feel bigger and stronger than someone else — as in overcompensating for insecurities?

Ahhh, that was fun for a liberal like me who gets so annoyed by both right-wingers and prejudiced people.

But there is a crimp in the analysis. First, the researchers recognize, not all liberals are brilliant, nor are all conservatives dense. We’re talking averages here. Certainly there are smart conservatives, including John Dean and Barry Goldwater. Also, the less intelligent are drawn to social and not fiscal conservatism.

And of course, extremists on the left and the right may both be simplistic. As the authors admit:

A study of left-wing liberals with stereotypically naïve views like “every kid is a genius in his or her own way,” might find that people who hold these attitudes are also less bright. In other words, it might not be a particular ideology that is linked to stupidity, but extremist, over-simplified views in general.

The main advantage of this research is finding clues to decreasing fear and hatred. For instance, many anti-prejudice programs ask people to see things from others’ perspectives, but that might be too hard for those with low IQ. And since prejudice is more emotionally than intellectually rooted, it’s probably better to change feelings instead of thoughts.

Who knows, perhaps the fear of appearing dimwitted will itself advance the cause against fear and hatred.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on March 19, 2012, in feminism, psychology, race/ethnicity, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. Alidod Ghazvini

    Ever since this past election, I have definitely come to the conclusion that prejudiced people are actually stupid. Overall, the root of this problem is the main societal flaw that individuals judge the book by it’s cover and are too lazy to analyze all the factors.

    I absolutely agree that people with low-IQ do not want to hear the other side of the story simply due to the fact that when the topic adds different dimensions to the story, it becomes much difficult for them to connect the dots and realize how illogical and prejudice their idea actually is, thus reiterating the title of this article.

    I think that the anti-prejudice program is doing an amazing job in trying to get individuals to look at different perspectives. Current society struggles with an open-minded mentality and thats why need to expose the whole story, not just the headline.

    On another note, I do agree that the appeal of making bold statements (that end up being racist) allow people to be more confident in ability to analyze complex topics. In essence, they think their simplifying everything to a single headline where in reality, they are just fooling themselves.

  2. Sophie Grajeda

    Recently (fall, 2014), i read an article in “mother jones” that reminds me of this post. The cover of the issue said “Are you racist? science has the answer”. It described an online test, the IAT, that I had happen to take when I was a sophomore (2006) in high school, to see if you were, in fact, “racist”. Aside from everything problematic with the word and concept of “race”, it’s very interesting. When I retook the test as an adult, I also took two other tests on the same website (link below), to see if I associate weapons with white or black people, and to see if I associate women or men with housework. After I took them, I encouraged the people around me to take them, not because I’m convinced that the science of it is fact, but because it’s just very interesting. It shows you pictures and asks you to automatically associate words with them, and vice versa (sorting words into positive and negative categories, matching positive words with a proportionate amount of images, etc.). The key is that it’s timed and it does a series of test runs before the actually test to assess your base speed and accuracy of answering. The point of the format of the test is that you can use any two things (pictures or words) and determine the level that someone associates the two, (black people and positive words, mothers and cleaning, etc.) I feel that this relates to this post because people with a preference for certain “races” or “genders” over others seem to reject science as fact, possibly contributing to their ignorance on the subject. A lot of people didn’t want to take it when I told them about it, and some people who did got results that were sort of embarrassing, but assessing the science of racism is so important, and rejecting science, as always, is a way of perpetuating ignorance. Again, I’m not vouching for the scientific accuracy of this test, but I am vouching for more scientific study into the matter, and more people to confront their prejudices head on if we ever want real change.

    Side Note: This also sort of connects to a previous “broadblogs” post about higher suicide rates in “family values” states. Places where things like science and mental health are undervalued take hard hits in quality of life when it comes to civil liberties issues.

    • That’s so interesting. I have written about this a little bit before. But thanks for inserting the link here. It reveals a lot about ourselves that is subconscious or unconscious bias.

  3. handsomerandyblackladbrad1953

    Your boy Goldie,errr-SENATOR GLODWATER-opposed the Voting Rights Act (as did Ronnie “Ray-Guns,”among other,ummm,CONSERVATIVES)because he termed it an interference with “States’ Rights>”(you know,that POSTIVELY WONDERFUL two-word phrase which,for a century,allowed Southern Bubbas to oppress and murder folk like me!!!!)

    • Neither Goldwater or Reagan are “my boys.” In fact, while my family was republican, and I grew up that way, I changed to Democrat when I realized that the GOP tended to help the powerful and hurt the less powerful.

      But at least we elected Obama, twice.

  4. handsomerandyblackladbrad1953

    geez,ya think??????

  5. Reblogged this on Diary of a VirginWhore and commented:
    It’s official – people with socially conservative attitudes are stupid!

  6. I agree with the idea that the low intelligence leads to prejudice, because a lack of knowledge brings wrong information and cause misunderstands that can result in prejudice. That is why going to school and taking education are very important to learn that there are a variety of people who are from different ethnicities, religions, sexualities and social classes. While educated people seem to be more willing to understand and accept differences, low educated people (mostly they are also poor) tend to become narrow-minded because they see what is going on only around them and hardly see outside of their community.

  7. I do not think prejudiced people are “stupid”, but I do think they are closed-minded, and they can let their ego get in the way of actually understanding why prejudices are wrong. I believe prejudice stems from an emotional event, and insecurities developing from that event. People who are not educated in all aspects of life will fail to come out of those insecurities, and blame those feelings on the whole group of people from which the inflicting person came. I definitely do not think it’s right to call prejudice people stupid- do you think treating them this way is going to help efforts to make them not prejudiced?

  8. Marcus Coleman

    When. I say prejudice people are stupid I am pre judging them but now it feels even better that I have scientific facts to back me up!!

  9. Megan Aldridge

    I was recently watching the television show “What Would You Do?”. In this particular episode, a woman was buying a wedding dress and let the shop owner know that she was gay and marrying her partner shortly. The shop owner then told the woman that she was not welcome in the store and could not buy a dress solely because she was a lesbian. An onlooker then stood up for the bride-to-be and when asked, “why did you stand up for her?” by the producers, she responded by saying the shop owner was mean and ignorant. Just as this article suggests how ignorance leads to prejudice, I believe that that was the same situation as I observed in the tv show. Those who cannot think outside of the norms are more likely than not to conform to hateful behaviors and thoughts.

  10. If we all stopped and looked at our own actions towards and opinions of others, there are very few (if any) of us who can say they don’t carry prejudice– I know I do. However, I would argue that intelligence comes into play when people question and challenge their prejudice, recognizing that it is not only irrational, but based in nothing social construction and ignorance.

    Your statement about “mean” conservatives brought to mind Newt Gingrich– only “likable” for his ability to insult and shout at whomever he sees fit. With a PhD in History, Gingrich is intelligent by educational standards, yet he still hold prejudice, specifically towards gays. I suppose that is more to say that high IQ doesn’t necessarily lead to intelligent social perspectives.

  11. I have always found that some of most intelligent people i’ve been around usually don’t classify themselves are being a conservative or a liberal. Just my opinion, but I find them to be very open-minded, easy to talk to and get along with on a daily basis. Those with a higher IQ are more capable of looking at both sides of an argument before making a decision. They also tend to read articles concerning both views rather than instinctively reading only what they think they’ll agree with. Why Prejudices people are lower IQ maybe because they have low self-esteem. It is most certainly because most of them have been raised that way. In that case, then it is a lazy mind that will not examine the teachings.

  12. Wu Cheuk Yin, Cherry

    When people make judgments on others, perhaps they should take time for a moment and think about what or whom they are judging. When people make judgments are they applying double standards or are they being fair? Virtually everybody has judge other people in one manner or the other, whether it is gossiping about someone who blunders, snickering about people who wear gothic clothes, or someone with disability, it is still judging or criticizing. Basically, is it normal or natural to judge people just because they are human? It is hurting and annoying when people get judged wrongly by others. If every human being can entirely override their beliefs and own preconceptions, then people can make informed judgment against others. Prejudice is a terrible experience, one that most people would not want to experience again-people should not be judged on their outer appearance, stereotypically or otherwise.

  13. I found this article to be very interesting and I believe that prejudiced people have their own sense about the world and they tend to block out the importance of being civilized. Prejudiced people never see the good things in people first and instead like to indicate the negative traits about the person. They prefer judging before actually attempting to find out how that person is and finding out about what that person brings to the world and their positive traits that carry along. Prejudiced people feed on negativity and it’s just not a good method to settle things in society. If only they were open to new things and accepting to others, life would be so much better.

  14. Prejudiced people are stupid. I totally agree with this judgment, but I used to believe that it is just a emotional feeling. After I read this article, I do think that they have low intelligence. As the article claims that “the appeal of prejudice comes partly from a desire to feel like you are better (or smarter?) than someone.” Being mean is just a way to make the prejudiced people feel equal with others. In my experience, prejudiced people usually feel impatient and insecure, and they tend to express their own opinion (usually negative) before someone else because they want others to feel that they know such things, but I think it makes them look even more stupid.

  15. I never thought about why someone would consider being prejudice, but this reading got me thinking about all the times I’ve came across a prejudice person it was clearly someone of low intelligence. People that only think one way are afraid to learn how other things work because they are blind to things that are essential to having an overall understanding of life.

  16. Prejudiced people just do not want to believe they are wrong. They are scared of change. This does not mean that they have the right to make rude comments. I know there is all this talk about freedom of speech but if you are going to be rude and make ignorant comments than the comments should not be heard. They should not be said at all. “If you have nothing nice to say, do not say anything at all”. That is how I feel about it.

  17. Jessica Garriga

    I do believe that people who show prejudice are stupid. They tend to block out any information that could contradict their way of thinking or even just a respective opinion. However, I don’t think politicians in power are part of the ‘mean’ pack in terms they’re JUST mean to be mean. Rather, i think they’re mean because they know that the followers will follow them if they are. If they’re too nice, then the followers will simply think they’re spineless and remove their support. This politics is a power game, followers are important to maintain that power. So I think politicians, or leaders, are mean because they want that power. Without it the followers won’t follow them.

    • I can see what you’re saying in the Republican primaries.

      I think sometimes you’re right (Mitt Romney for instance).

      But other “true believers” or “true conservatives” seem to truly be mean: Gingrich, for instance. Santorum doesn’t seem as mean, but he seems to have little empathy.

  18. I have a copy of John Dean’s book and it’s well worth reading. In a similar vein is George Lakoff’s “Moral politics”, which explains the differences in how liberals and conservatives think.

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