Saturday, January 14, 2012

Race, gender, and self-deception

In his fascinating book The Folly of Fools, Robert Trivers theorizes that people are very prone to self-deception in order to better deceive others to one's advantage. You lie more effectively if you believe the lie yourself. Since having status is particularly important for men, they are more likely than women to inflate their abilities. To test this, I looked at Add Health data. I examined the relationship between gender and self-described intelligence, controlling for objective intelligence (based on a vocabulary test). I also added race/ethnicity to the model to see if groups differ in the tendency to exaggerate one's intelligence. All minority groups are compared to whites (who serve as the reference category):

Standardized OLS regression coefficients (sample size = 6,169)

Objective IQ .32*
Male (vs. female) -.02
Black .17*
Hispanic -.02
Asian .02
American Indian -.01 

*statistically significant

First, people do have a tendency to rate their intelligence correctly--self-described intelligence is positively correlated with measured IQ--but the tendency is only moderate. Next, males are not more likely than females to inflate their smarts. By contrast, blacks are significantly more likely to--compared to whites. The other racial/ethnics groups do not differ from whites.

Regarding blacks, I'm not sure if this is a racial trait or something that is induced by living in a society with a high average IQ. Hispanics and American Indians have lower than average IQs, but do not inflate their intelligence more than whites, which makes me suspect that above-average boastfulness is a black thing.

One other item--the results do not support the claim that Asians underestimate their IQs (out of cultural modesty). The tendency for Hispanics to do so falls just short of statistical significance.


  1. Anonymous4:22 AM

    I believe self-deception rises with age, Trivers once said something in a speech. F.e., older men have a bias for good mood and thus experience things more positive -- grumpy as they may seem. Did you compare same age groups also?

  2. Blacks,when called negroes in my youth, rarely displayed aggressive vanity. Joe Louis was the epitome of black physical power but was extremely modest in a society dominated by whites. The zeitgeist was entirely a white one. The Sixties was absolutely revolutionary in reversing that national belief system.

    Ron is likely right that the black mind has unique properties relating to Reggie White's list of traits: childlike, impulsive, emotional, musical,and aggressive.In a long life-mostly teaching and writing-my contacts with blacks led to the impression of low intelligence but a childlike tendency for superstition and myth.Thus, a hero like MLK triggers enormous mythology reinforced avidly by liberal true-believers.

    Academia, the former bastion of skepticism, harbors departments of race and gender studies seething with pseudo-science related to ego-enhancement and mythology.PC controls every aspect of what was once a cordial, free arena of inquiry. Afro-centrism is one of the pseudo-studies founded upon brazen lies.The very fact of Afro-American mental gigantism leads me to suspect a deep need for ego edification. All races carry this genetic tendency, but blacks, being weaker in impulsivity, childlike immaturity, and lower IQ, seem unable to find balance in traits related to mature living.Poor decision-making is a cultural constant.What Ron calls a "black thing" fits into this very different kind of brain. They will persist in "Black history months" and endless aggrandisement of MLK for the reasons I've mentioned. It is like a child's cry for attention and admiration.Darwin's truth stands in the way despite the PC prison of the white mind. Myths, after all, can be protective in a harsh world. All brains seek comforting memes but the black kind may simply have less cognition, more emotion, and more of what a child might need when facing unpleasant realities.

  3. Anonymous12:47 AM

    Pretty fascinating given that much of the literature on self-enhancement is oriented around "Why do Westerners self-enhance" relative to Asians.

    It seems like Asians in the West acclimatize very quickly on this, at least on the basis of vocab.

    Of course their intelligence may be hidden in math, so they may well still be expressing more humility.


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