Sunday, July 15, 2012

Conscientiousness, intelligence, and a pseudo-scientific hierarchy of humanness Researchers with an agenda based on "race realism" would have people believe that all the "socially desirable" characteristics that people can have are clustered together, and as a corollary all the unpleasant and antisocial traits cluster together too. More pointedly, the desirable traits are supposedly concentrated in certain racial groups, whereas the undesirable ones are characteristic of other races. According to a recently published paper (Templer, 2012) conscientiousness and intelligence apparently are positively correlated. The author states that: “The same conditions conducive to the evolution of greater intelligence would appear to be conducive to the evolution of greater conscientiousness.” The “same conditions” are assumed to involve challenges to survival. The author also links the development of intelligence to the development of a general factor of personality (GFP). The argument is that the GFP is associated with agreeable, altruistic, and conscientious behaviour that in turn helped foster greater cooperation leading to longer life spans and the development of larger brains. The author goes on to discuss Richard Lynn’s argument that dysgenic patterns of fertility are currently occurring in which highly intelligent people are having fewer children, while the less intelligent are having more. The author states that “Since intelligence is positively related to conscientiousness, such a fertility pattern is not one that generates optimism.” Incredibly, the author does not cite any evidence for this bizarre claim that higher intelligence is associated with higher conscientiousness. The only reason for making this claim appears to be the author's commitment to race realism and an associated "hierarchy of humanness".

A number of recently published studies have actually found that higher conscientiousness is associated with lower intelligence. There is even a paper called “Why is conscientiousness negatively correlated with intelligence?” published in an earlier issue of the same journal as Templer’s recent paper (Moutafi, Furnham, & Paltiel, 2004). Templer explicitly stated that conscientiousness is measured by the NEO-PI-R, the same personality trait measure used by Moutafi et al., so it cannot be the case that he is talking about a different construct with the same name. Templer equates low conscientiousness with psychopathic personality traits and then cites Lynn’s (2002) work on racial and ethnic differences in psychopathic traits as evidence for inter-racial differences in conscientiousness. Lynn’s study has been criticised as invalid for a host of reasons, such as confounding ‘psychopathy’ with antisocial personality disorder and citing purely behavioural data as evidence of psychopathy without consideration of environmental variables (Skeem, Edens, Sanford, & Colwell, 2003). Templer also links Lynn’s psychopathic characteristics to J. Philippe Rushton’s K differential theory, which theory has been criticised as scientifically invalid (Weizmann, Wiener, Wiesenthal, & Ziegler, 1991). Rushton’s theory argues that some human races are more ‘K-selected’ and hence more altruistic, whereas other are more ‘r-selected’ and hence more prone to criminality and psychopathy.

Rushton’s argument has been condemned not only for its unscientific basis but for promoting a “barely disguised hierarchy of humanness” in which “everything human and desirable is K and everything animalistic and evil is r” (Weizmann, et al., 1991). Perhaps this belief in a “hierarchy of humanness” can provide a clue as to why Templer would claim without any evidence at all that conscientiousness is positively correlated with intelligence. Templer supports Rushton’s theory of evolutionary selection for a ‘general factor of personality’ that combines all the socially desirable personality traits. Naturally, the general factor of personality is assumed to be ‘K-selected’ and not only that, it actually supported the development of greater intelligence in human evolution if the theory is to be believed. Therefore, Templer argues that some races have evolved not only larger brains and higher intelligence than others but this is because of their socially desirable traits, including greater conscientiousness. Therefore, it seems that Templer has just decided that conscientiousness and intelligence must be positively correlated because it fits into this hierarchy of humanness. A serious scientific problem with this hierarchy of humanness theory is that it appears to be built on a house of cards. Not only is the claim for a positive association between conscientiousness and intelligence contrary to evidence, nearly all the assumptions built into this hierarchical theory appear to be unfounded. For example, Muncer (2011) has argued that evolutionary theory does not support the existence of a general factor of personality. The environmental heterogeneity of environments during human evolutionary history supports a diversity of traits, because certain traits would be adaptive in some environments and not in others. Rushton’s theory on the other hand requires that a homogenous suite of personality traits ordered along a single dimension has been adaptive though all of human history, which would require a constant homogenous environment throughout this vast period. Weizmann et al. (1991) dissected Rushton’s theory in detail and showed how scientifically wanting it really is.

Presumably Templer believes high conscientiousness is important for the welfare of society. Since lower intelligence actually appears to be associated with higher conscientiousness, then perhaps these ‘dysgenic’ trends that worry Templer so, really are grounds for optimism. If people of lower intelligence are outbreeding the more intelligent, the result could be a generation of hard-working rule-abiding conscientious people rather than a society of psychopaths.

This article also appears on Psychology Today on my blog Unique - Like Everybody Else.

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© Scott McGreal. Please do not reproduce without permission. Brief excerpts may be quoted as long as a link to the original article is provided. 

Posts discussing the General factor of personality

Other posts discussing intelligence related topics
Cold Winters and the Evolution of Intelligence: A critique of Richard Lynn’s Theory
The Illusory Theory of Multiple Intelligences – a critique of Howard Gardner’s theory

Lynn, R. (2002). Racial and ethnic differences in psychopathic personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 32(2), 273-316. doi: 10.1016/s0191-8869(01)00029-0
Moutafi, J., Furnham, A., & Paltiel, L. (2004). Why is Conscientiousness negatively correlated with intelligence? Personality and Individual Differences, 37 (5), 1013-1022 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2003.11.010
Muncer, S. J. (2011). The general factor of personality: Evaluating the evidence from meta-analysis, confirmatory factor analysis and evolutionary theory. Personality and Individual Differences, 51(6), 775-778. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2011.06.029
Skeem, J. L., Edens, J. F., Sanford, G. M., & Colwell, L. H. (2003). Psychopathic personality and racial/ethnic differences reconsidered: a reply to Lynn (2002). Personality and Individual Differences, 35(6), 1439-1462. doi: 10.1016/s0191-8869(02)00361-6
Templer, D. I. (2012). Richard Lynn and the evolution of conscientiousness Personality and Individual Differences, 53 (2), 94-98 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2011.05.023
Weizmann, F., Wiener, N. I., Wiesenthal, D. L., & Ziegler, M. (1991). Eggs, eggplants and eggheads: a rejoinder to Rushton. Canadian Psychology, 32 (1), 43-50 DOI: 10.1037/h0078958