Are Smart People Less Racist?


A 2016 study published in Social Problems takes on the issue of intelligence and racism. Geoffrey T. Wodtke of the University of Toronto wanted to know whether higher cognitive abilities influence a person’s racial tolerance and commitment to racial equality. For his study, “Are Smart People Less Racist? Verbal Ability, Anti-Black Prejudice, and the Principle-Policy Paradox,” Wodtke focused specifically on verbal ability, or the skills needed to understand and analyze language-based information. He analyzed data collected from 1972 to 2010 through the General Social Survey (GSS) — a repeated, cross-sectional survey of the attitudes and demographic characteristics of U.S. residents. The GSS regularly includes an abbreviated version of the Gallup-Thorndike Verbal Intelligence Test, a short vocabulary test designed for use in survey research. Because the GSS had not collected data from sufficiently large samples of racial minorities, this study examines the responses given by a total of 44,873 white survey participants.

The key findings include:

Survey respondents with better scores on the verbal ability test were much less likely to have a negative view of black people’s intelligence and work ethic. For example, 45.7 percent of respondents who scored the lowest on the test reported that they think “blacks are lazy.” About one-quarter (28.8 percent) of the highest scorers agreed with the statement. Respondents with higher test scores were less likely to oppose black-white intermarriage and having black neighbors. Twenty-eight percent of those scoring in the highest one-third of test takers said they oppose intermarriage compared to 46.7 percent of those in the bottom third of test takers. White survey participants generally were more likely to support opportunity-enhancing policies such as open housing laws and tax incentives for businesses in black communities than redistributive policies such as racial preferences in employment and government aid for black people. A small portion of all respondents said they support racial preferences in employment. But those with the highest verbal test scores were less likely to support racial preferences than those with the lowest scores. About 13 percent of respondents with top scores reported supporting racial preferences in employment compared to 8.2 percent of those who received middle-range scores and 15.2 percent who performed worst on the exam. There is a general disconnect across all ability levels when it comes to views on racial segregation and discrimination and support for policies intended to redress those issues. For example, 88.8 percent of respondents said they think black and white students should attend the same schools. However, 23.2 percent said they support busing programs intended to integrate segregated school districts. Differences in attitude by ability level are less pronounced among respondents who grew up before the American civil rights movement. The author states that “higher verbal ability is closely linked to rejection of overtly prejudicial attitudes among cohorts socialized during or after the 1950s and 1960s.” - See more at:

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