Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rushton's general personality factor: Have you guys been following Rushton's latest work? He's conducted several studies suggesting that there is a general social ability factor, just like there is a general factor for mental ability.

From one of his studies:

The position to be presented here grows directly out of Darwin’s (1871) view that natural selection endowed modern humans with larger brains, increased levels of general and social intelligence, and a more ethical and prosocial personality than ‘‘primeval man and his ape-like progenitors” (p. 159). Darwin wrote of increased levels of human qualities such as ‘‘courage, sympathy, and faithfulness,” and a ‘‘need for approval by others,” with a concomitant decrease in the frequency of ‘‘selfish and contentious people” who ‘‘will not cohere, and without coherence nothing can be effected” (p. 159). Darwin described how moral and inter-personal skills go hand in hand with the greater intelligence modern people possess.

Using structural equation modeling, he shows that personality traits are not orthogonal, and that a general factor can explain more than 50 percent of the variation in the lower-order traits.

To be really reductionist about it, people can be classifed into one of four categories: 1) smart-good; 2) smart-bad; 3) dumb-good; and 4) dumb-bad. And since intelligence and pro-social behavior are positively correlated, as Darwin suggested, there may be more people in categories 1 and 4 than in 2 or 3. This does seem consistent with a rough folk psychology. You could get even more reductionistic and say there are two categories: competent and incompetent, or something like that.

Rushton thinks of the general trait as "social efficiency." Another quote:

In a competitive world, there are always rewards (personal and professional) for more efficient persons—those who are more level-headed, agreeable, friendly, dependable, and open. We close by noting Tolstoy’s (1875/1918) famous opening in Anna Karenina, ‘‘All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Perhaps a similar principle applies to individuals: ‘‘All happy [or efficient] people resemble one another; each unhappy [inefficient] person is unhappy [inefficient] in his or her own way.”


  1. Anonymous6:37 PM

    Do you have a link? I'd like to read moar.

  2. Thanks.

    I was thinking about something like that when reading Joe Wambaugh's true crime book Fire Lover, about John Orr, the Glendale FD arson investigator who started scores and perhaps thousands of fires. We're awfully luck there aren't many people in that Smart-Bad quadrant.

  3. Article: J. Philippe Rushton, Trudy Ann Bons, Yoon-Mi Hur. The genetics and evolution of the general factor of personality.
    Journal of Research in Personality 42 (2008) 1173–1185

  4. Reminds me of the halo effect. Of course, sometimes such a belief has some basis in reality.

  5. Steve said: "We're awfully luck there aren't many people in that Smart-Bad quadrant."

    But wait -- aren't there? What about all the financial wizards on Wall Street (like at Goldman Sachs for instance) -- surely they must count as "Smart-Bad"?!

  6. Dr. Rushton has posted several papers here, including the one under discussion.

  7. bbartlog11:29 AM

    Any discussion of smart/dumb and good/bad can't be complete without the brilliant Basic Laws of Human Stupidity: http://wwwcsif.cs.ucdavis.edu/~leeey/stupidity/basic.htm

  8. But wait -- aren't there? What about all the financial wizards on Wall Street (like at Goldman Sachs for instance) -- surely they must count as "Smart-Bad"?!

    (a) There don't have to be that many for those guys to do a LOT of damage.

    (b) Iffy. you've got sociopaths who are really friendly but evil. They probably tend to rise to the top of most power structures (corporate or governmental).


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