Through a joint venture between the Psychology and Political Science departments, Carleton welcomed Steven Ludeke ’03, researcher of the psychological origins of ideological difference, for a talk on Thursday, October 17, strikingly titled “Politics and intelligence: Both more and less connected than we thought.”
While at Carleton, Ludeke created his own major in Philosophy of Science, before later shifting his interests and undertaking a Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Minnesota. He now serves as an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Southern Denmark, where his main area of study is the origins of ideological difference.
During his presentation Thursday, Ludeke explored the purported connections between intelligence and politics through the lens of the American political system and the political parties of Denmark. Based on his and others’ research, Ludeke posits that intelligence is correlated with both social conservatism and economic conservatism in distinct ways. Social conservatism is negatively correlated with intelligence, thus on average, socially conservative people have lower IQs than socially liberal people. In contrast, economic conservatism is positively correlated with intelligence, meaning that people who are economically conservative tend to have higher IQs, and vice versa.
Given the United States’ two-party structure and how each party is defined along these two dimensions, Ludeke concluded that intelligence does not differ between members of different U.S. parties. However, he states that intelligence differences between parties do exist in Denmark, and these differences are likely more pronounced elsewhere. Moreover, Ludeke discussed the relationship between self-perceived capability and resistance to change, citing a study that explored how American undergraduate students were asked to reflect on their capabilities as a student and their social conservatism after either being told they did great or terribly on an exam; students tended to report an increase in social conservatism when also reporting an increase in self-doubt.
In a conversation after the presentation, Ludeke reflected on potential implications of his work in the context of the upcoming U.S. presidential election. He touches on the connection of I.Q. to the American political system:
“In ways, it’s not that relevant, but there are still ways that it preserves relevance, such as thinking about how one’s messaging is expected to work and thinking about how to effectively communicate.”
When asked to reflect on the Cambridge Analytica scandal from the 2016 U.S. election—where the aforementioned company used Facebook metadata to target voters with ads, potentially with Russia involved—Ludeke emphasized that he had not paid much attention to the backlash against the company but knew of the commercial uses for the type of data and results Ludeke finds in his own research.
“These guys are doing what I know how to do, but I think they don’t know how to do it as well. Completely concerning, but also probably not the biggest deal in the world.”
Students had a generally positive reaction to the presentation, though some recounted lingering questions about the nature of Ludeke’s research.
“I appreciated the talk itself, as it is a very interesting topic on how we could scientifically study how vote choices and the degree of conservatism (both social and economic) relate to human personalities and intelligence,” said Psychology major Kavie Yu ’20.
“I wasn’t sure how Steven took the measures of the conservatism score, though,” continued Yu. That was something I felt skeptical about his research.”
Joe Radinsky ’23 elaborated on feelings of uncertainty regarding the results Ludeke explained through the presentation. “I am glad that he came in to speak because this is a very controversial topic, but the failure to address potential ambiguity of results gave me pause, and made me wonder how much good this has the potential to do versus harm.”
Though Ludeke acknowledged that his knowledge does not lie in practical applications of his research, he did speak to the possible uses of his research results in response to some audience questions. The aspect Ludeke said most jumps out to him is when the rules change in fast and complex ways that cannot be explained easily, that scares people the most. Above all, he emphasized the importance of not dehumanizing the people we disagree with.
At the end of his presentation, Ludeke left one last question for the attendees to ponder: how are the perceived psychological differences between you and your ideological opponents exaggerated by your respective values, and how can you rehumanize your opponents?