Beauty & Brains Correlated

Perhaps the answer to the question about what it really means to be intelligence is to judge a book by its cover. It turns out that Beauty and Brains Often Come Together. So, except perhaps at the limit, when you meet someone who appears smart, but is unattractive, you should have second thoughts about their judgement. If they are academics or their politics are left-win, even more so!

Since people who have post-graduate degrees are politically more left-wing than people who have only bachelors degrees and since the more education one has the less likely one is to have kids (see the previous link) then are the genetic variations that code for a predisposition to left-liberalism being selected against? My guess is that high IQ people who do not go on to grad school are politically to the right of high IQ people who do. Well, the latter are probably having fewer kids than the smarties who do not go to grad school. So are the future generations of high IQ people going to be more right-wing than they are now?


13 Responses to Beauty & Brains Correlated

  1. diane says:

    So, when do you think they will isolate the genetic variations that code for an inability to recognize the difference between inherited and acquired traits?

  2. ooghe says:

    Also curious to know when we will establish an intergenerational definition of what right wing/left wing politics are…

    or whether post-grads getting their MBAs/JDs were taken into account in assessing whether post-grads as politically to the left…

    Another interesting thing is that rises in birth rate tend to correlate with radical political movements. The Tamil Tigers are said to be a result of this, and Iran is currently experiencing a reactionary movement as a result of increased birth rate after the revolution. And of course, we all know what happened after the Baby Boom.

  3. josh says:

    the world according to alex jacobson:

    1) left-wingers are stupid.
    2) everyone who supports our presence in iraq unquestioningly is smart.

    sooooooooooooo tiresome. dennis miller used to be funny.

  4. Diane, I assume genes take part in determining the production of hormones that affect motivation/depression, tolerance/preference for risk/competition, desire for pair-bonding, or pregnancy (note: we already know some of the hormones for these things e.g. adrenaline, testosterone, estrogen). I would be very surprised if attitudes towards these things did not affect both political attitudes and fertility.

    Robert, all we can talk about are today’s right/left wingers. We don’t know how they would behave in a different ideological ecosystem, but that is irrelevant. I agree that high birth-rates cause more radical change. See my post on longevity in conflict with capitalism
    I’m not sure I would describe Iran as experiencing a reactionary movement (unless you interpret pro-US Iranian youth as reactionary!)


    Still waiting for you to come clean on whether Bush lied about imminent threat. Strawmen are tasty aren’t they. Unfortunately they lack much nutritional value.

  5. ooghe says:

    Yes, I did indeed mean pro-US youth as reactionary. Maybe that’s a poor choice of words- I didn’t want to say ‘radical’ in order to distinguish them from the radicals involved in the ’79 revolution. Opposed to the reigning orthodoxy, I mean.

  6. josh says:

    alex, it is completely useless for me to show you anything else i’ve shown you. when i show you details, you say they’re from bad sources. when ooghe exhaustively shows you details, you say that verbosity is the last refuge of the intellectually challenged. and then you call me stupid.

    i don’t even know why i bother. i am kicking myself right now. right back at cha, alex.

  7. ooghe says:

    re: your response to Diane- I think a genetic predisposition towards political ideology is a bit of a stretch. I could see it affecting degree of participation in an ideology, though.

    My intergenerational question is valid though- ideology is a social construct- the composition of today’s Republican and Democratic bases were realigned in the last generation (Goldwater Republicans being comprised of disaffected southerners, Reagan Democrats from the unions- etc). Ostensibly, today’s conservatives are not opposed to segregation, though- which would have been a conservative position a generation ago.

    Have they mutated within a generation?

  8. Robert, I view history as a long story of elites allying with peasants to preserve the status quo against change by the middle class. The paleo-conservatives have much more in common with the anti-war left (and with Nixon or McGovern) than they do with modern neo-cons and moderate Democrats (Reagan’s “tear down this wall” or Kennedy’s “bear any burden/pay any price”)

    Yes, the parties have mutated. The positions have continuity.

  9. diane says:

    Ah. Forget sociobiology. Endocrinology explains it all!

    Sorry to fisk, but you’re doing junk science:

    “Diane, I assume genes take part in determining the production of hormones”

    They certainly do. Hormones are either proteins, peptides, modified amino acids, or steroids. All of these but steroids are hydrophilic, which means they must bind to a receptor to affect a cell. This means that the genes controlling the expression not only of the hormone but also the receptor must be accounted for on your model. Hormones travel using factors in plasma that also need to be accounted for genetically before your argument can be taken seriously. As for steroids, they bind with proteins inside the cell; these proteins too need to be accounted for genetically before we can move to a genetic-hormonal hypothesis for behavior.

    Which is just to say: There are a lot of genes to account for, and it’s a long way to San Jose, buddy.

    Moreover, even if you could map genotype to every single one of these factors, getting to

    “motivation/depression, tolerance/preference for risk/competition, desire for pair-bonding, or pregnancy”

    is not simple. Intracellular signaling is complicated. It involves three separate homeostatic mechanisms that often interact themselves.

    Moreover, environmental factors are also in play (like hormones in meat and dairy products, pseudo-hormones from plastics, and voluntary ingestion of hormones like the Pill). These factors affect homeostatic mechanisms, often for long periods, and they are operative in vast swathes of the population. Your genetic model is weakened by its exclusion of non-genetic hormonal tinkering.

    In the case of the pill, the tinkering may actually be enough to support your belief that educated women don’t have enough children — without having to resort to goofy ideas about genotypes. In other words, women who have access to education also often have access to the pill. Being on the pill may cause them to delay or forgo childbearing because (1) it takes so long to get pregnant after you go off the pill (2) (wacky) maybe hormones in the pill make you reject the idea of having children or (3) being on the pill just means you don’t have kids, by definition, full stop.

    Moreover, your theory has to account for how long it takes to adjust after hormonal tinkering. You don’t just bounce back from an endocrine insult. If endocrine signaling were strictly genetic, and behavior strictly hormonal, then people’s behavior would change in predictable ways as a result of endocrine insult (or tinkering), and would change back again in predictable ways once the tinkering stops or the insult is assimilated. Yet, people’s behavior does not change in this mechanical way. For instance, women who go on the Pill and develop depression often do not recover from the depression immediately upon stopping the pill. The hormonal balance has to be re-jiggered some other way.

    For your argument to work, you would have to propose a model for genetic expression that would account for all these variables (and probably more) while still retaining the primacy of the genotype in explaining behavior. I doubt you can do this. A person’s endocrine signature is in constant flux, and I would not be surprised if the signatures differ as much as people do. If hormones really made as much difference as you say, there would be much less variety in human behavior. We’d all be much more alike than we are, especially in terms of our attitudes and preferences.

    ” (note: we already know some of the hormones for these things e.g. adrenaline, testosterone, estrogen). I would be very surprised if attitudes towards these things did not affect both political attitudes and fertility. ”

    Grammatically, what you’re saying here is “I would be very surprised if attitudes toward pregnancy, depression, motivation etc. did not affect political attitudes and fertility.”

    This is either a grammar mistake or a hedge. It conceals a leap in your thinking that either isn’t warranted or for which the warrant hasn’t been articulated.

    Certainly attitudes toward pregnancy affect attitudes toward fertility. (And so on with the rest of your examples.) But attitudes toward, say, pregnancy and depression, are not nearly as hormonally mediated as actually being pregnant or depressed, and the science linking hormonally-based attitudes toward pregnancy and depression is not nearly as compelling as the science linking hormones to pregnancy and depression. Nonetheless you want to smuggle this stronger connection ino to stand for the weaker one. If there is a warrant for expanding the stronger claim to include the weaker one, you have not articulated it. Maybe, like I said, the problem is just sloppy grammar. But if it isn’t, and if you’re going to adhere to your own standards of intellectually honesty, you really are obliged to articulate the warrant.

    Soo.. articulate!

    ps. please stop implying that josh is not only dumb but also ugly. it’s simply not fair. i checked out his web site and he’s neither. 🙂

  10. Diane,

    Are you saying that genetic factors have no effect on attitude towards risk, desire to bear children, or feelings of depression/motivation?

    Or are you saying that attitude towards risk, desire to bear children, or feelings of depression/motivation have no effect on ones politics?

    In the case of the former, attitude towards risk is most certainly related to testosterone levels and there is lots of evidence that testosterone production has a genetic component (otherwise e.g. baldness would not be genetic!)

    Here is evidence for the heredity of depression
    “This form of depression runs strongly in families, is associated with other mental disorders that include prominent disturbances of mood, and has a significant negative impact on the health and longevity of patients and their family members.”

    I don’t have good evidence on the desire to bear children per se but here is some evidence that genetics affect preferences for monogamy:
    The gene, known as the vasopressin receptor, is located in the brain’s reward center and may also be involved in drug addiction.

    Researchers say the findings may help explain the neurobiology behind romantic love as well as disorders such as autism that affect how people form social bonds.

    As to the question of how these factors affect politics, I refer you to George Lakoff ( I would speculatively connect high vasopressin levels directly with more liberalism based on his model.

    PS Josh is neither dumb nor ugly and I am sorry if people interpreted me as implying otherwise. This post and the prior one on different types of intelligence were part of a conversation with another friend and had nothing to do with Josh. Sorry for the confusion.

  11. diane says:


    Your links just sort of open out the discussion. They don’t conclusively show the truth of your claim that genes determine attitudes. Also, you seem confused by my discussion of the causal mechanisms at work at each level of your inquiry, from genetics to hormones to behaviors and beliefs.

    Certainly, hormone levels affect moods and attitudes that, in turn, may find expression in one’s political views, but many other things affect moods, attitudes, and modes of expressing these things as well. One’s testosterone level may make one less risk-averse, but one may express this risk aversion by driving recklessly, or taking up skydiving, or investing heavily in a biotech startup. To the extent that behaviors can be unequivocally shown to be controlled by intracellular signaling mechanisms like hormones, I’m not sure they’re interesting. While the meadow vole’s levels of intracellular vasopressin do affect its mating behavior, this result is of limited interest because meadow voles, unlike people, can’t tell us if they’ve chosen monogamy among a panoply of other equally interesting alternatives or if they are just doing what comes naturally.

    Animal models have other significant limitations in terms of the conclusions for humans that you can draw from them (more on this below).

    My post was only intended to show that your argument linking politics to genes via endocrinology was too reductive. If you look at the actual mechanisms of protein synthesis, intracellular messaging, and what we know about attitudes and behaviors related to depression, monogamy and so on, you will see why efforts to attribute attitudes and behaviors to genotypes are speculative, to say the least.

    Back to the meadow vole. One cannot simply extrapolate everything from romantic behavior to addiction from a single study involving animal models. Animal research organisms are good to the extent that they are relatively simple. Yet this simplicity is exactly what vexes any effort to extrapolate results of such animal studies to humans. The scientists who conducted the meadow vole research know this, although the journalist who wrote it up does not seem to appreciate it. The original Nature publication on the meadow vole was was more guarded than the news article you linked to in its assessment of the significance of the results of this study for humans. The scientists quoted in the article are also quite guarded in their comments. I’m sure you noticed the difference between the researchers’ careful statements and the more heated pitch of the writing around those statements.

    The most one could reasonably infer from the meadow vole research is that changes in a gene can cause result in changes in behavior when the gene modifies a protein that codes for a hormone receptor. This is not really news. Proposed genetic therapies are frequently modeled on this approach. Moreover, plenty of drugs also manipulate levels of intracellular messengers like hormones and neurotransmitters by affecting their receptors. SSRIs certainly influence attitudes. If you could get gene therapy for depression instead of swallowing a pill, the net result would be the same. I am not saying genes affect behavior. I am saying they affect protein synthesis. Sometimes a change in how a protein is synthesized will have effects on intracellular signaling systems like the endocrine system. Some of these effects may, in turn, promote certain behaviors or attitudes. Precisely how and to what extent this promotion results in a specific attitude or behavior by any particular person is, I would say, rather unclear.

    As for the “heredity” of diseases: Yep, there is plenty of evidence that you can be genetically predisposed to develop all sorts of things. But there is a difference between predisposition and destiny. Look at different types of cancer. Every cancer has some genetic component, but there is a huge difference between “having the gene for retinoblastoma” and “having the gene for prostate cancer.” With retinoblastoma, if you have the gene, you are going get the disease in childhood, no two ways about it. If you have a genetic predisposition for prostate cancer, you might or might not get the disease. Much depends on other factors, like diet and behavior and even how long you live. And some of these other factors may themselves be genetically mediated! You could, for instance, be genetically predisposed toward heart disease, and that might kill you before the cancer did. Or, you could be predisposed toward heart disease but you might have also inherited a gene that makes you unlikely to develop depression, which would in other circumstances have made you more likely to overeat out of sadness, and then you’d develop the prostate cancer before you’d need that triple bypass.

    Or you might get a vicious avian flu that altered the part of your genotype that codes for a protein that causes plaques to form in your brain, and you could die of a degenerative brain disease even before the prostate cancer and hardened arteries kicked in, just because you were on the subway and someone sneezed. On top of spaghetti…

    You see my point, I hope. Even if every single one of these factors is genetically mediated, people are so complex that it would be absurd to suggest that you could trace political attitudes or monogamy preference back to a person’s genotype.

    One last thing needs clarification. You ask me:

    “Are you saying that genetic factors have no effect on attitude towards risk, desire to bear children, or feelings of depression/motivation?”

    Okay, let’s first talk about your rhetoric here. You are reinterpreting what I said in order to paint me into a corner, which is time-honored move in high school debate but isn’t really useful for adult communication. Notice: If I say yes, genetic factors have effects, then I will have conceded your point. If I say no, they have no effect, then I would just be wrong. But your claim was not that genes have effects on attitudes toward risk and so on. That claim would be far too modest. Rather, your claim is that there is a straight line of causality from genes to attitudes and behavior. You base your claim on the weaker but more empirically demonstrable claim that yes, genes affect hormones. I am saying the line is not as straight as you think. Moreover, if you’re going to base a sweeping claim about the genetic basis of behavior on the more modest results of science demonstrating the genetic mechanisms of the synthesis of hormone receptors, you have to articulate a convincing warrant for doing so. I have already told you why it is impossible to extrapolate from an animal proxy like the meadow vole. The research is suggestive, but that’s about it.

    To the extent that genes may be said to affect attitudes and behavior, they only do so through the synthesis of proteins that are deployed in intracellular signaling systems like the endocrine system. These systems are complex and the interactions of hormones, receptors, neurotransmitters, and other protein-based materials in the bloodstream are not perfectly understood.

    That’s why, for instance, there is no one-size-fits-all birth control pill. Rather, there many different kinds of birth control pill on the market. These are not just different brands but different cocktails of hormones. While in theory there should really be no difference in the endocrinal effects of different synthetic progestins, in practice different women require different kinds of pills. No one knows why.

    Endocrinologists are in business for a reason. At different levels of organization (genetic, endocrinal, attitudinal), different effects and behaviors emerge. You don’t treat a thyroid hormone deficiency by fiddling with a gene, even if the problem is “genetic”; you treat it by prescribing replacement hormones. To complain that this treatment does not go to the “source” of the problem is just succumbing to reductionist dogma, which has a certain allure to be sure but is, for all that, still dogma. It doesn’t do justice to the complexity of systems at the organismal level, and it doesn’t do justice to the complexity of being a person – all the particulars that make up a life, like riding the subway, getting the flu, having a habit of not eating vegetables, or opting for a “watch and wait” approach to an elevated PSA level. People are complicated; everyone’s different. Think about it. If genes really did “code for” political preferences, only geneticists would have jobs in government. It only took a genocide to send that idea the way of the dodo.

    Apologies for the length of this post. I hope I have been clear and at least a little amusing. This stuff is not simple.

  12. Diane,

    You said: “Rather, your claim is that there is a straight line of causality from genes to attitudes and behavior. You base your claim on the weaker but more empirically demonstrable claim that yes, genes affect hormones.”

    I wasn’t claiming genes determine political preference. I was claiming genes influence it (we agree!). If true, one consequence might be that the marketability of different political views will change in a manner correlated with breeding patterns and will likely drive the country in the direction of the current Republican party.

  13. matinee idol says:

    Interesting new research on genes and serotonin.

    DURHAM, N.C. — Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have provided the first direct evidence in mice for the role of an enzyme that specifically controls the production of serotonin in the brain. Different versions of that serotonin enzyme have a major effect on brain levels of the chemical messenger, which has been linked to many basic behavioral and physiological functions including mood, emotion, sleep and appetite, the researchers reported in the July 9, 2004, issue of Science. The finding has major implications for understanding psychiatric disorders and their treatment, the researchers said.

    … the rest is here:

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