Wednesday, 24 February 2016

You want it good, or you want it Tuesday?

All of us deal with speed/accuracy trade-offs. At some point a decision has to be reached: is it good enough now, given the urgency of the demand, or should it be kept back for further improvement? In the case of a bowl of soup, urgency usually triumphs. In the case of a commercial airliner, getting every component working properly generally predominates.

A rule of thumb is the principle that if it is 80% right then it is worth shipping in cases of urgency, because delay is more dangerous than using something which is partially effective. For example, a reasonably effective vaccine or treatment for Zika might be rushed through in affected areas, so long as the side-effects were not worse than the terrible effect on some pregnant women.

Therefore, it is particularly interesting to reflect on the relationship between speed, accuracy and intelligence. Which way will bright people jump when it comes to balancing speed and accuracy?

Phillip L. Ackerman and Victor J. Ellingsen. Speed and accuracy indicators of test performance under different instructional conditions: Intelligence correlates. Intelligence Volume 56, May–June 2016, Pages 1–9


Performance on speeded ability tests, in contrast to power tests, reflects an individual's ability to get answers correct and to do so rapidly. However, with speeded tests, overall performance scores represent some unknown combination of the individual's strategy toward greater speed or higher accuracy. Scoring methods, such as penalties for wrong answers, are often imposed to either encourage examinees to adopt a specific speed-accuracy tradeoff strategy, or to attempt to derive performance scores that ‘factor out’ such strategic differences. In the current study, baseline assessments of four perceptual speed and psychomotor ability tests were administered, along with three different instructional conditions (accuracy-emphasis, speed-emphasis, and balanced accuracy and speed). A general ability composite was derived from a battery of intellectual ability tests. Changes in speed-accuracy tradeoff emphasis resulted in a consistent pattern of changes in the g correlates of latency/completion time performance indicators and number of errors. Increasing emphasis on accuracy resulted in increasing g correlates with latency/completion time, and decreases in g correlates with error rates. Implications for construct validity of ability tests and for further consideration of the conditions of testing are presented.



One take-away from such results is that performance (especially latency) on these tests is consistently associated with general intellectual ability. Historically, estimates of the g-loadings for perceptual speed and psychomotor tests have been modest, but these may be underestimates because previous researchers used perceptual speed and psychomotor tests that are too brief to obtain adequate reliability (for a discussion of related issues, see Ackerman & Cianciolo, 1999).

Nonetheless, under explicit instructional emphasis toward accuracy, speed, or an equal emphasis on both accuracy and speed, a remarkably consistent set of results was found, which complicates the above conclusion about the relationship between test performance and g. Under accuracy-emphasis instructions, correlations between test item latency and g were diminished, in comparison to both baseline measures and speed-emphasis instructional conditions. In contrast, error rate measures were most highly related to g under accuracy-emphasis conditions, again both in comparison to the baseline assessments, and in comparison to the speed-emphasis conditions.

Although Woodworth (1899) was perhaps the first to empirically identify individual differences in reactivity to conditions which demanded changes to speed and accuracy emphasis, there has been inadequate study of the issue in the subsequent decades. Nonetheless, there are some hints in the broader literature (e.g., Salthouse, 2000), that as adults age, there is a more substantial decline in speed of processing, in comparison to accuracy of responding, under traditional task instructions emphasizing both speed and accuracy. Whether this is represents an increase in rigidity associated with aging or a change in personal ‘tempo’ is not clear, nor is it known what specific physiological/neurological changes that might be responsible for such changes. In addition, there is evidence that lower-IQ individuals have more difficulty in regulating speed-accuracy tradeoffs, compared to normal-IQ individuals (e.g., see Brewer & Smith, 1984), suggesting that there may be a more executive processing limitation associated with flexibility in strategic reactions to differential speed and accuracy demands.


Ultimately, the consideration of speed-accuracy tradeoff functions, both imposed (e.g., by instruction) and self-generated (through an individual's preferential strategy or through an individual's understanding of the costs and benefits associated with the penalties for incorrect answers), comes full circle to Thorndike et al. (1926) assertion, which is in essence a ceteris paribus argument—that is, if examinees produce the same number of correct answers on a test, those that produce the answers faster are considered to be more intelligent. However, as noted extensively by Lohman and others, because examinees respond in such a way that they ordinarily are at different positions on their own speed-accuracy tradeoff curve, the ceteris paribus condition rarely occurs naturally during testing. Thus, speed and level of an individual's intellectual ability may be inextricably intertwined in many testing situations. We believe that the current study illustrates that there may be much to be learned about the nature of intellectual abilities, by focusing efforts on attempting to separate these two important components of test performance from a construct validity perspective (e.g., when investigating the relationship between speeded measures on one hand and general intelligence on the other hand), and also by implication, for criterion-related validity purposes.

This is a good paper, which opens up interesting questions about the way an individual (and individuals in particular circumstances) may chose to alter the balance of their speed/accuracy preferences. The substantive matter of this particular trade-off was much researched by W.D. Furneaux from the 1950s onwards, and his Nufferno tests were based on those insights.

Speed, accuracy and persistence were the core concepts which Furneaux used to discuss mental performance. A very useful triad when considering real life intellectual achievements. While it is sad to see previous work mostly forgotten, it is good to see the topic alive and well, progressing speedily to an accurate conclusion.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Punitive gods and religious donations

Yes, this is a follow on from the last post, as a result of the first author Dr Benjamin Purzycki kindly sending me an already published simplified account of his work.

So, participants played one round of a 30 coin game in which (by breaking the rules without realizing this could be detected) they effectively chose between giving themselves some money or donating it to someone else of the same religion living in a distant village; and then another round of the same 30 coin game in which they chose to donate the money to someone in their own village as opposed to someone else of the same religion living in a distant village. From this game we learn how much a person values their own interests as opposed to a co-religionist living far away, and how much they value their close neighbours’s interests as opposed to a co-religionist living far away. The results of the first round might be called “selfishness” and of the second round “parochialism”.

Now, with a much clearer understanding of the game, all I need do is look up the results for each of the conditions. For example, in the first round a selfish person might have given themselves 20 out of the 30 coins, where the strict number they should have got by chance would have been 15. That would be 20-15=5 points of selfishness. In the second round they might have given another person in their village say 18 coins, which would have indicated 18-15=3 points of parochialism.

That means going into the supplementary tables. Could someone else have a look at those, and I will post up their findings?

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Mighty, vengeful, all-knowing God engenders altruism, study finds

I enjoyed making up that headline, but the actual title of the Nature letter is almost as Turneresque: “Moralistic gods, supernatural punishment and the expansion of human sociality”

Purzycki et al. Nature 10.1038/nature 16980

They don’t write papers like that any more, but Purzycki et al. have returned to the tradition of gesamtkunstwerk. They propose to answer a question which, I must say, hasn’t bothered me much: why are people nice to strangers? I thought the answer was because, on average, most strangers were nice enough to be nice to, and in fleeting transactions why not be civil, reserving rudeness for those one knows best?

Purzycki and colleagues have searched out some tribes, presumably pure specimens of something, for analysis and participation in an altruism game. Stick with me while I explain as best I can what they have done. They begin thus:


Of course, pro-sociality could still be explained by genetic relatedness, reciprocity and partner choice (and probably accounts for much of human social behaviour). In addition to those core factors, people could have established a superficial modus vivendi with crowds of strangers. The behaviours which get favoured by selection often have wider consequences than the original problems they were intended to solve.

However, the authors feel that further explanations are necessary:


Of course, true altruism is being nice to strangers even if they don’t share your religion, so the “co-religionist” criterion is something of a let down, and suggests that relatedness of the belief sort is still important.

The subjects were recruited in the following interesting and out of the way places:


Why? Why not go to the suburbs, where most people live? They are just as genetically old as anyone else. Was it tacked on to another field study?

The authors found 591 subjects, and 60 observations made of each person.

Understanding the results is not easy. Ideally, results should be visible at a glance, with the supportive detail easily to hand. In this case the results are a pain to find. The authors need to consider simple-minded readers like myself. What’s my problem? I don’t know at a glance why there are two columns with the same name of  “local co-religionist game” and another two columns of “self game”. The explanations earlier give me a clue but I lost the will to keep cracking the code. Life is short, even for altruists.


Let me direct you to the tables and figures I felt were leading me somewhere.


The final result is that I do not know what the final result is. I think it means that if subjects believe that their god is punitive and all-knowing, then they give about 20% more to others.

They then draw the same findings.


This is an ambitious and interesting paper, which I would have preferred to have had presented in a simplified format. For example, drawing up a total score for “charitable giving to strangers”. I would have understood that, and been willing to forgo some of the game details in order to grasp the main implications. I think they have probably identified something, but lack the will to find out more.

Disclaimer: I wouldn’t have commented on this paper, but distinguised people (genetically unrelated) send it to me in the hope it would lighten up my day, and I thought it rude to ignore them. I did not check on their religion, but believe them to be fellow worshippers at the temple of Truth.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Dognitive ability (in university level dogs)

Rosalind Arden, when not sitting next to me at conferences teaching me what questions to ask speakers about animal general intelligence, has been testing dogs on doggy problem-solving, and finds that the general ability evident in mice, chimps and humans is also present in dogs. Odd if it were not the case, given that it is a feature of having a brain which must adapt to the problem of survival.

I accept that dogs co-evolved with humans, and do not resent them their place on the planet, but I prefer most of them at a distance, outside the house and in the countryside where they belong. Once I am sure that they are not going to bite me, lick me or piss on the furniture I can tolerate the quieter and more thoughtful ones, particularly if they are morose but amiable. Excitables dogs, overjoyed that humans have genitalia, I can do without. Cats, with their claws, and their tendency to sit in your lap, I can also do without. Perhaps in my case I was left out of the co-evolution process.

Rosalind Arden and Mark James Adams. A general intelligence factor in dogs. Intelligence Volume 55, March–April 2016, Pages 79–85

The structure of cognitive abilities in dogs is similar to that found in people.

Dogs that solved problems more quickly were also more accurate.

Dogs' cognitive abilities can be tested quickly, like those of people.
Bigger individual differences studies on dog cognition will contribute to cognitive epidemiology.


Hundreds of studies have shown that, in people, cognitive abilities overlap yielding an underlying ‘g’ factor, which explains much of the variance. We assessed individual differences in cognitive abilities in 68 border collies to determine the structure of intelligence in dogs. We administered four configurations of a detour test and repeated trials of two choice tasks (point-following and quantity-discrimination). We used confirmatory factor analysis to test alternative models explaining test performance. The best-fitting model was a hierarchical model with three lower-order factors for the detour time, choice time, and choice score and a higher order factor; these accounted jointly for 68% of the variance in task scores. The higher order factor alone accounted for 17% of the variance. Dogs that quickly completed the detour tasks also tended to score highly on the choice tasks; this could be explained by a general intelligence factor. Learning aboutg in non human species is an essential component of developing a complete theory of g; this is feasible because testing cognitive abilities in other species does not depend on ecologically relevant tests. Discovering the place of g among fitness-bearing traits in other species will constitute a major advance in understanding the evolution of intelligence.


However, though I am not interested in dogs, I can see why they make good experimental subjects. The authors say: Dogs are not subject to confounding arising from lifestyles that may contribute to causal differences such as smoking, alcohol and drug use. Individual differences in dogs' cognitive abilities are not causally confounded with variability in socio-economic status. It is more feasible, cheaper and less intrusive to conduct repeated behavioural testing with dogs. Following phenotypic studies, dogs will be useful in genetic studies; genes associated with complex traits are easier to find in dogs than people because of their longer haplotype structure (Lequarré et al., 2011 and Ostrander et al., 2006). A consequence of their haplotype structure is that sample sizes needed for genomic analyses are much smaller in dogs than people. Some behavioural adaptations are breed-specific (pointing, herding); these involve both innate propensities and learning. Some traits are typical across all breeds, such as a tendency to affiliate with humans (see for review Benksy et al., 2013, Miklosi, 2007 and Shipman, 2010).

Here are the doggy tests they used: We examined individual differences on a set of cognitive tasks (four increasingly complex versions of a detour task first designed in 1927 by the German psychologist, Wolfang Kohler (1887–1967)(Frank and Frank, 1982 and Scott and Fuller, 1965), a quantity-discrimination task (Bonanni et al., 2011,Macpherson and Roberts, 2013, Prato-Previde et al., 2008 and Ward and Smuts, 2006) and a point-following task (Elgier et al., 2012, Ittyerah and Gaunet, 2009, Kaminski and Nitzschner, 2013, Lakatos et al., 2012 and Miklosi et al., 2006). These tasks were administered to one breed of dog (border collies) selected from similar rearing and living environments. We administered six tasks (of which four were related) to the dogs and, guided by the human psychometrics literature, tested the fit of four basic models against the data.

We recruited 68 farm-living border collies from Wales. We chose a single breed to avoid confounds arising from differential selection. Scores from a basset hound tested against a whippet would be uninterpretable (Udell, Ewald, Dorey, & Wynne, 2014) This is because dogs have been selected by people for different behaviours, and they are the most polymorphic species on earth, varying greatly in leg length and other traits relevant to task performance. We selected farm border collies for several reasons. First, we wanted the dogs' backgrounds to be similar (in contrast with pet or companion animals, because variation in level of enrichment could contribute to cognitive differences). Although border collies have been subject to artificial selection its focus has been on behaviour more than appearance; border collies remain morphologically variable with a reported moderate inbreeding coefficient of around 2.8% (Hoffman, Hamann, & Distl, 2002) but unknown empirically in our sample. Our sample comprised 68 dogs, (males 34, females 34) ranging in age from 1 to 12 years. We chose Wales as our recruitment centre because it is rural and enriched for border collies, having many hill farms where dogs work stock.

The animals in our sample differ from companion animals in background and behaviour that may be relevant to the study. They are kennelled outdoors and, although socialised to respond to their owner in a farmyard setting, they are unaccustomed to games, indoor behaviour and food treats.


Dognitive tasks

We first estimated how much within-dog variability there was on task performance. The consistency of performance was low for navigation (R = 0.26, 95% credible interval [CI] = 0.11, 0.42) and repeatability was low for the point-following (R = 0.35, CI = 0.22, 0.50) and moderate for quantity discrimination (R = 0.51, CI = 0.40, 0.63). Consistency on mean navigation completion time was moderate (Rn0 = 0.58, CI = 0.35, 0.74). Repeatability of mean completion time on point-following was high (Rn0 = 0.77, CI = 0.63, 0.87) and of average completion time on quantity discrimination was also high (Rn0 = 0.88, CI = 0.83, 0.92).

The authors then carry out some factorial studies, and found that the hierachical g model was the best fit. The full model explains 68% of the variance, but g itself accounts for only 17% of the variance, which is not all that much, but see the possible explanation further below.

Our results indicate that even within one breed of dog, where the sample was designed to have a relatively homogeneous background, there is variability in test scores. The phenotypic structure of cognitive abilities in dogs is similar to that found in people; a dog that is fast and accurate at one task has a propensity to be fast and accurate at another. It may seem obvious that once a detour task (finding the treat behind a barrier) has been solved in one form, the solution to the other forms will follow naturally, but dogs are not people. Experiments have shown that dogs' problem-solving skills do not transfer readily from one problem to a different form of the same problem as ours do (Osthaus, Marlow, & Ducat, 2010). The g factor we report is consistent with the prediction made by the many experts in the ‘dog world’ (trainers, veterinarians, members of dog societies, and farmers) who were consulted in the early stages of this study. Those experts said that in their experience some dogs were more likely to catch-on, learn and solve problems more quickly than others. Our results show structural similarities between canine and human intelligence.

Just as everything is falling nicely into place, Arden and Adams admit that border collies which can’t round up sheep at the command of the shepherd do not make the grade as sheep dogs, and are excluded, so that the sample they’ve been working with are the cognitive elite of the breed, able to work out what humans want them to do, the top flight university graduates of the doggy world. This selection will lead to considerable restriction of range, because all the dogs are very bright. If it were possible to include the equivalent of some technical college collies, a few art college collies, and a pack of liberal arts, humanities, social scientist qualitative sociologist collies, it would strengthen the correlations and the g factor considerably. Perhaps this should be incorporated in the next study. The other approach would be to find a harder additional task to test these bright collies more stringently.

Read the whole paper here:

This is an important finding, and will not be surprising to biologists, but certainly dents the argument that general ability is a confection which depends on an arbitrary selection of narrow tests.

So, Deary and Der’s “cognitive epidemiology” is now joined by Arden and Adams’ “dognitive epidemiology” and g rides over the whole lot, supreme.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Swedish Prejudice: immigrants and psychologists


Although I receive the British Journal of Psychology, I rarely read it. I look at the contents list, and sometimes intend to read one of the papers, but then place it safely  in the pile of brochures on my study floor. I do not say this in condemnation of a journal I have read for 45 years, but my interests have diverged from its contents. I pay for it as a a presumed academic requirement, but not out of any excitement.

Today, before putting it aside I came upon a paper with a topic of contemporary interest, which is unusual, so I thought I would look at it in the light of the current mass migration into Europe.

Like parent, like child? Development of prejudice and tolerance towards immigrants. Miklikowska, Marta. British Journal of Psychology, 107.1 (Feb 2016): 95.

First of all, this is a well-conducted study and a clearly written paper, so this is good quality psychology research, and not a weak study to be dismissed for failing to meet contemporary standards.  Second, the discussion includes at least the possibility of genetic transmission of attitudes, so it is not marred by an exclusively social focus, though little is made of the possible genetic causes of the observed effects. Third, the sample of 891 adolescent 13 year olds is sizeable, and there are two waves of data collection two years apart, which give more dependable results.

Despite all this, I still wonder if it does justice to attitudes regarding immigration. I baulk at the idea that an attitude must be a “pre-judgement” if comes to one conclusion (against immigration) but indicates tolerance if it comes to another conclusion (in favour of immigration). Most of us, most of the time, make judgements on the basis of only a few of the possibly available facts. In my view, this is natural. We use rules of thumb (heuristics which make us smart) in order to make the best decisions we can in the time available. More knowledge might make us change our minds, but does not have to, because it may confirm our intial observations. So long as we take in new facts, and don’t get too precious about old hypotheses, we should be able to update our views and make better decisions. Indeed, had we not been able to do so in former times we would not have survived. Being as right as possible, without waiting to be perfectly right, particularly in a fast changing world, has evolutionary advantage. It can be a matter of life or death.

Turning to the paper itself, the attitude questions used in this paper come from Van Zalk et al (2013) and the flavour can be judged by the title “Xenophobia and tolerance towards immigrants in adolescence”.

Prejudice and tolerance towards immigrants were measured with eight items from the Tolerance and Prejudice Questionnaire (TPQ, see Van Zalk et al., 2013). Prejudice was measured with three items rated on a 4-point Likert scale (1 = Don't agree at all to 4 = Agree completely): ‘Immigrants often come here only to take advantage of the welfare in Sweden; Immigrants often take jobs from people who are born in Sweden; It happens too often that immigrants have customs and traditions that not fit into Swedish society’. Tolerance was measured with five items rated on a 4-point Likert scale (1 = Don't agree at all to 4 = Agree completely): ‘Immigrants should have equal rights as Swedes have; Immigrants are good for the Swedish economy; We should have a welcoming attitude toward immigrants that would like to live in Sweden; The Swedish culture gets enriched by immigrants coming to Sweden; In the future Sweden will be a country with exciting encounters between people who come from different parts of the world’.

These questions give respondents more opportunities to agree to tolerant questions than prejudiced ones. An “acquiesence response set” might be more likely to be engengered by these five “positive” questions than the three “negative” ones. Even more importantly, these opposed statements do not cover the range of opinions about immigration. I wonder how respondents would have responded to more general statements like: “Immigration must be to the advantage of local people.”  Many people feel positive about individual immigrants and negative about large scale immigration, and this is a rational position.


If we take adolescent prejudice as an average of 2.26 then the average Swedish adolescent is hovering at the mid-point of slight agreement with the “prejudice” questions and at 2.7 slightly agreeing with the “tolerance” questions. Call it a 0.44 difference in favour of tolerance. Parents at 2.085 for “prejudice” and 2.945 for “tolerance” are 0.86 in favour of tolerance. So, parents are more tolerant than their children.  This either means that adults learn to live with immigrants, or that young people are becoming less tolerant of increasing immigration, which perhaps they see more at school than parents see at work. On the other hand, you might say that the main finding is that parents and adolescents slightly agree with the “prejudice” statements and agree a little bit more with the “tolerance” questions, but only the adults show much of a difference in favour of tolerance. The apparent overall leaning towards tolerance might be because all respondents have 5 opportunities to “say the right thing” and only 3 to “say the wrong thing”.

From a factual point of view, what is the right thing to say about immigrants in Sweden?

As the Swedish state does not base any statistics on ethnicity, there are no exact numbers on the total number of people of immigrant background in Sweden. There are data on nationality, which means that in most studies immigrant children count as Swedes. This is an approach adopted in many countries, which makes it difficult or impossible to follow different genetic groups into the second generation onwards. Indeed, regarding race and religion as unmentionable subjects is intended to make them disappear. If indeed they are of little consequence, then recording them as a matter of course, together with other data, would reveal them to be unimportant, and would give the lie to vulgar prejudice. Pretending not to notice obvious differences smacks of protesting too much, and fearing to find real differences.

Despite the embargos, just to give a flavour of the available data, here is an entry from Wikipedia: As of 2011, a Statistics Sweden study showed that around 27% or 2,500,000 inhabitants of Sweden had full or partial foreign background. Therefore, there should be plenty of studies comparing the various immigrant groups with the local population. In a study by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention in 1997–2001, 25%of the almost 1,520,000 offences were found to be committed by people born abroad and almost 20% were committed by Swedish born people of foreign background. In the study, immigrants were found to be four times more likely to be investigated for lethal violence and robbery than ethnic Swedes. In addition, immigrants were three times more likely to be investigated for violent assault, and five times more likely to be investigated for sex crimes. Those from North Africa and Western Asia were overrepresented.

Here is some work on the employability of immigrants:

APRIL 2014. Catching Up: The Labor Market Outcomes of New Immigrants in Sweden By Pieter Bevelander and Nahikari Irastorza

The report shows that employment rates during newcomers’ initial years in Sweden are relatively depressed for low-educated refugees and migrants who come based on family ties, in comparison to natives and labor migrants from EU countries. Since Sweden's refugees and family arrivals are not selected through employment-related criteria, they are likely to lack locally in-demand skills and are often out of work in the years immediately after arrival. The obstacles these groups face can be exacerbated by certain features of Sweden’s labor market, such as high minimum wages, a relatively small pool of low-skilled jobs, and stringent employment protection for permanent work.

Non-EU labor migrants are also more concentrated in low-skilled jobs and have lower average annual earnings than both EU migrants and natives. Over time, however, all newcomers to Sweden have on the whole improved their employment rates, displayed income growth similar to natives, and moved into middle-skilled positions.



Swedish citizens may well baulk at a policy which results in immigrants taking a decade to come close to Swedish standards.


Swedish citizens may well prefer an immigration policy which requires at least secondary education, or even tertiary education so that immigrants are likely to be beneficial to them immediately, and not after 14 years if at all.

I think it would have been more accurate to have entitled the paper “Attitudes to immigrants in parents and their children”. That would be neutral, which is the scientific ideal. I don’t know what the “right” attitude is, nor does the author, nor has the questionnaire been measured against any factual benchmark of immigrant contribution. The paper does not discuss what proportion of immigrants claim benefits as against the proportion of local claimants, though the above study suggests immigrants actually claim for a longer period. Judging whether the statement: “Immigrants often come here only to take advantage of the welfare in Sweden” is true or false needs to be based on proper evidence.  Presumably the effects of the current immigration will become even clearer two generations from now, so long as proper records are kept. In the mean time, for a factual look at immigrants and their scholastic attainments into the second generation, and indirectly their intellectual abilities, see:

Rindermann H, Thompson J. THE COGNITIVE COMPETENCES OF IMMIGRANT AND NATIVE STUDENTS ACROSS THE WORLD: AN ANALYSIS OF GAPS, POSSIBLE CAUSES AND IMPACT. Journal of Biosocial Science [Internet]. 2014 Nov 7 [cited 2015 Sep 23];1–28. Available from:

The general points and the detailed tables are covered here:

Considering the psychological traits of immigrants and their socioeconomic outcomes, research strongly confirms that immigrant performance is predicted by country of origin. Usually these abilities and achievements are lower than the European norm, even into the second generation. On that basis there are entirely rational reasons for being opposed to unselective immigration, and being in favour of selection by ability and good character.

Back to the paper again. The data were collected in 2010 and 2012, before the latest surge of immigration, so the attitudes may have changed somewhat, and the findings may be out of date. The paper is out of date, and no fault of the author. She submitted her manuscript in October 2014, the revised version in January 2015 and it has seen the light of day only in February 2016, 4 years after data collection. This is no way to disseminate science. Back to the paper again. Immigrants were excluded, which is a pity, since their attitudes would refine the interpretations placed on the overall results. Immigrants are often lukewarm about further immigration, particularly about other immigrant groups. This is rational. The benefits they get from settled and wealthy societies are threatened if many more supplicants come to seek those same benefits, benefits which include higher-paid work.

Back to the paper again. Parents and adolescents influenced each other in their attitudes, and parents influenced their children more if their children saw them as supportive. The author concedes that the overall effect might be due to an inherited predisposition, but feels socialisation is the key. This leaves aside the findings on the heritability of social attitudes. Picking a relevant paper at random, it is at least worthwhile considering whether the apparent interaction of parent and child in coming to an opinion might be due to shared heritable characteristics.

Social influence constrained by the heritability of attitudes. Nicholas Schwab. Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 66, August 2014, Pages 54–57

In her Conclusions and Implications the author says: “Given the adverse effects of prejudice for the well-being of immigrants, interventions aimed at decreasing adolescents’ anti-immigration attitudes have been designed. They may be informed by this study and use inter-generational transmission as a social engineering tool.” This attitude on the part of the author certainly puts the needs of immigrants higher than those of residents. She deems immigration to be correct and anti-immigration to require social engineering. Perhaps social engineering is seen as A Good Thing in Sweden, though it raises fear in Anglo Saxon lands.

Anyway, her specific policy implication provokes the response: “Given the adverse effects of unselective immigration on the well-being of local people, interventions aimed at decreasing pro-immigration attitudes should be designed”. Pro-immigration might be based on the mistaken pre-judgement that anyone from anywhere must be better than the locals. Correcting this misperception would be of benefit to Swedish citizens.

What would a neutral implication be? “Groups intending to sway people’s attitudes about social policies like immigration should consider the effects of  inter-generational transmission”. This would allow pro- and anti-immigration activists to use the findings of this paper, such as they are, to boost their campaigns.

I think that the author has pre-judged the issue of immigration. I do not know, and she cannot know, what the current effects of new immigrants will be. She has decided it is a good thing, but gives no references in her paper. Both she and I can look at the data on immigration to Sweden and to Europe, so as to get a general indication of the consequences of immigration. I certainly think that any study of presumed prejudice should give the basic evidence on which the truth is based: the truth from which the prejudice is revealed.

In summary, I think that the standard social psychology viewpoint of “prejudice” versus “tolerance” is not helping us understand social attitudes to immigration. Prejudice is to pre-judge something without having considered it, and to hold to that opinion despite all evidence to the contrary. Setting aside whether Swedish citizens really want to have the levels and types of immigration they are getting (as free people they could decide against it for whatever reason) there is evidence of the costs paid for immigration in terms of the decade it takes for the new arrivals to fully contribute, as compared to the locals. The “prejudice” questions in this survey do not do justice to the citizen who feels that, on balance, the current immigration policy is not to their advantage, nor to the advantage of their children.

The paper is an example of a careful analysis of the specific results obtained, but the concept of “prejudice” reduces the proper understanding of how parents and their children come to form their political and social views, whilst a more open and neutral attitude to attitudes could have strengthened it.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Three quarters of a million

Or a mere seven hundred and fifty thousand. Take your pick. People are reading about intelligence research.


Wednesday, 3 February 2016

50 Russian oblasts

The last time I walked around Red Square, many years ago, my companion Nick pointed out that there was a light Cessna plane on the cobbles surrounded by a temporary barrier. I was not interested in it. It was a glorious night, beautiful Russian women were promenading about, the Red Flag was flying in a breeze specially created for it by an air compressor hidden in the flagpole, the Border Guards were celebrating their national day by being amiably blind drunk, and I was looking forward to giving a talk at a conference the following day. The Cold War seemed to be coming to an end.

The next day international journalists accosted me the moment I left the hotel not, as usual, to get my wise perspectives on psychological matters, but to ask if I knew the name of the doctor attending the conference who had filmed the Cessna landing in Red Square. A German boy had eluded Russian air defences and brought his plane down in central Moscow. The unknown doctor had videod the landing, and eventually sold it to the media for a small sum. The immediate story was that the boy was trying to impress his girlfriend, but the later account was that he was making a gesture in favour of world peace. Whatever the cause, it allowed Gorbachev to fire a few incompetent military men.

Now there has been a landing of a different sort: The data for literacy, infant mortality, fertility and stature in the late nineteenth century are available for 50 provinces of European Russia. The percentages of the population that were literate in 1897 were calculated from the data of the Russian Imperial census carried out 28 January, 1897 a mere 119 years ago, or almost 5 generations back.

Regional differences in intelligence, infant mortality, stature and fertility in European Russia in the late nineteenth century. Andrei Grigoriev, Ekaterina Lapteva, Richard Lynn.  Intelligence 55 (2016) 34-37

Estonia and Livonia were (and probably still are) the bright (literate) provinces of Russia, no doubt something to do with having been Swedish dominions until 1710. They tower over the rest of Russia. On average, Estonians are said to have 49.5% of West European Hunter-Gatherer (WHG) ancestry, the highest percentage of any living population. Nearby Pskov, slightly to the East and 95% Russian, had the lowest literacy rates.

The Russian provinces differed significantly by geographical location. The positive correlations with latitude (r= .33, p<.05) and the negative correlation with longitude (r=−.43, p<.01) show that the rates of literacy were higher in the northand west than in the south and east. These trends were partly determined by the rates of literacy being highest in the north-western provinces of St. Petersburg and the three Baltic states of Estland, Livland and Kourland(correspondingapproximately but not precisely to contemporary Estonia and Latvia; Livland consisted of southern part of contemporary Estonia and eastern part of contemporary Latvia). Removing these four regions makes both correlations non-significant (.21 and −.23).




Literacy was strongly positively associated with stature. The more literate provinces had lower infant mortality, probably due to their higher wealth. They also had smaller families, but Lynn finds this does not correlate with stature, suggesting it is not a wealth effect but probably part of a general dysgenic trend at that time.

This is a very interesting data set and is part of a trend towards regional comparisons, showing that intelligence not only impacts individuals and countries, but also districts, states and provinces. This is a valuable contribution, given that such matters are routinely ignored in most travelogues and political discourses. It is also testimony to what can be achieved when one scholar, despite scarce resources and considerable opposition, makes links with psychologists across the world, and puts together the results for countries and regions so as assemble an archive of ability across the world.