Friday, December 31, 2010

Are survey responses to HBD questions honest?

In yesterday's post on the popularity of HBD, readers raised the reasonable concern that a person might be unwilling to tell an interviewer face-to-face (that's how the GSS is done) that he thinks that blacks are innately less intelligent than whites.

Fortunately, the GSS allows us to vary interview conditions in two ways: 1) was it a face-to-face interview or one done over the phone; and 2) was the interviewer white or black?

Here are the percentages who agreed that blacks are innately less intelligent:

Percent answering yes--white sample (N = 2,044)

White interviewer over the phone 3.4
White interviewer in home 8.5
Black interviewer over the phone 7.7
Black interviewer in home 4.4

Not much evidence here for the view that people are responding to the conditions of the interview. Whites should feel most comfortable giving the pro-HBD response to a white interviewer over the phone, but this condition gets the fewest affirmative responses. Myself, I would have the hardest time expressing my position to a black person, but the second-highest rate of positive response was given to black interviewers over the phone.

On the other hand, interviews over the phone are uncommon, so cell sizes are low. If we focus only on the in-home interviews, there is more support for the idea that people tend to give socially approved answers. 8.5 percent of respondents answered yes to a white interviewer at home, compared to only 4.4 percent of those responding to a black person. The difference, however, is not statistically significant. Whites might be responding to conditions, but keep in mind that only 9 percent of interviews were given by blacks.  


  1. Anonymous10:23 PM

    Do you have data by region?

  2. I don't think this is primarily an example of people lying, or being afraid to speak the truth; but of what I termed (in the context of IQ and social class) knowledge 'hidden in plain sight' -

    It is apparently very easy for controllers of public discourse (especially the media, politicians and educators) to distract and deflect substantive debate into ad hominem wrangling over motivations:

    What is more - the people who are deflecting debate do not necessarily realize they are doing it; while the public who consume PC discourse do not realize it is being done.


    Probably, this is because spontaneous human psychology is indeed more concerned about establishing other people's motivations (dividing the world into goodies and baddies, and ignoring or attacking the baddies) than it is about formal reason - and probably this aspect of human psychology is so ingrained that it cannot be changed.

    Indeed, there are very few and isolated examples of humans conducting genuinely rational debate - as contrasted with the mere following of conventional protocols (which is what passes for science, law, history and indeed academic philosophy nowadays).

    Indeed, probably only very few humans (and under very particular circumstances) are capable of genuine reasoned discourse - I'm pretty sure that I am not.

    And, overall, maybe it is better that way?

    I suspect that our biggest problem in the politically correct present times is moral inversion (i.e. the systematic reversal of common sense and natural law) - and not inadequate rationality.

  3. It should also be mentioned that black interviewers disproportionately interviewed black respondents. However, blacks are more likely to point to less in-born ability to learn than whites are, so I'm not sure how much it matters.

  4. The figures you posted up showed 20% answering in an HBD-aware way in 1978. I was old enough in 1978 to have an informed opinion, and I think a lot more than 20% of people were hbd-aware then. And the Hawthorne effect on this stuff was way weaker then.

    So, I think there is something wrong with the interpretation of this question, but not the Hawthorne effect thing. I don't know what it is, though.

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