It seems that the famous saying by William Hazzlit “Prejudice is the child of ignorance” isn’t true any longer, as the studies have shown that people of all cognitive abilities have prejudice. However, there is still a difference between highly intelligent people and those of lesser cognitive abilities – it lies in the object of their prejudice.
Types of prejudice according to different levels of intelligence
According to a study “Answering Unresolved Questions about the Relationship between Cognitive Ability and Prejudice” by Mark Brandt and Jarret Crawford, past findings that state that people with lower intelligence are more likely to form prejudice are no longer viable.
The authors tested cognitive abilities of 5,914 people using a wordsum test. They then were able to draw conclusions about each group regarding their levels and objects of prejudice. The results showed that both groups were equally prejudiced in terms of intensity, yet they were prejudiced against different matters.
Namely, subjects of low cognitive ability confirmed previous findings as they were more prone to be prejudiced against non-conventional or liberal groups, as well as people who have lower levels of choice over group membership (i.e. people defined by their race, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation).
Authors explain this tendency of less intelligent people to be prejudiced against people who are different from them as a way of making clear distinction and boundaries between them: “Having clear boundaries helps people feel like the opposing group is distinct and far away. That is, they won’t be so much of a threat.”
On the contrary, people with higher IQs are more prone to be prejudiced against “conservative, conventional” people and people who have “higher levels of choice over group membership”.
Miscommunication and prejudice
Another study by Jessica J. Cameron and Jackquie D. Vorauer,2 provides some very interesting findings regarding prejudice. Namely, it challenges people’s beliefs about being transparent. It starts from a premise that most people believe their thoughts, intentions and feelings are easily conveyed to others through their conduct around them. Yet, the study states that
“Individuals’ metaperceptions regarding how another person views them tend to be egocentrically biased by their own private self-knowledge: They overestimate the extent to which their traits, feelings, and intentions are ‘transparent’, perceiving more congruence between their inner self and the other person’s impressions than actually exists.”
The study goes on to explain how human brains aren’t actually wired to read minds, a notion that is most evidently seen in certain interactions between members of different groups. In those cases, if one side is trying too hard to convey a certain feeling, their efforts can be read as negative emotion by the other side and can be counterproductive since it prolongs the bias on both sides.
The research ultimately shows that the way out of prejudice requires openness to listen prior to making any judgments. No matter how different certain set of attitudes or beliefs seems from ours, there is always common ground where we can meet, only if we are willing to find it.
All things considered, it seems that the question should not be how intelligent we are, or what or who we are prejudiced against, but how willing we are to take all assumptions aside and approach another human being with eagerness to understand, rather than to judge.
Ultimately, being smart doesn’t mean holding stubbornly to our set of beliefs and considering others’ wrong. But, to the contrary, it means having an open mind and being open to communicate with and understand the other side, even if it seems at odds with ours.