In this awful political season we’re hearing a lot about racism, misogyny, homophobia or Islamophobia. And although we are attuned to these attitudes from Right Wing groups, those of a liberal bent don’t tend to think much about who they are prejudiced against. According to research reported in Broadly, it seems that the objects of our prejudices correlate with high versus low cognitive ability. Which kind of sounds prejudicial in itself!
The researchers found that those at lower cognitive levels (as determined by a test that correlates with IQ) tend to be prejudiced against liberals and non-conventional ‘others,’ those who are discernibly different, such as African-Americans, LGBTs, Hispanics, or Muslims. Researchers call these “low choice groups” because these are categories people can’t help falling into. Remember the mighty efforts of the Right to paint Obama as a Muslim Kenyan? It was an attempt to tag him as “other” without coming out and saying precisely what was meant, i.e., not like me, not white. (That task falls to Donald Trump.)
Those with higher cognitive abilities have strong prejudices as well, according to the study. They dislike those who have a choice as to the groups they belong to – and who in their view have chosen wrongly, of course. So they don’t like conservatives (why can’t they listen to reason and change their minds?) and don’t think much of what they consider conventional folks generally. Whatever that means.
In other words, everybody holds prejudices; just against different groups.
Studies also look at what I like to call “differentism.” Living in a variety of countries with very different cultures, I can confidently say that people all over the world are suspicious of or downright hostile to people who are different from themselves. It isn’t just race; it’s culture, religion, tribe, place of origin, accents – anything that sets you apart from the dominant group.
We’re uncomfortable with these differences. An example: in Ghana, villages had a barrier (yes, Trumpistas, almost like a wall.) with a bench in front of it for visitors from other villages. When visitors arrived, they sat there until a local came along and asked them their business, who they wanted to see, etc. Thus vetted, the stranger was allowed in.
In cities we are constantly thrown in with “others.” We can’t vet everyone we pass on the street. I’ve lived and traveled in over 60 countries, but I hear languages spoken in my neighborhood that throw me for a loop. People learn to live with each other, interact with one another, and in the main think nothing of it. Our “boundaries” are still there, but in our daily lives they have been thinned out, so to speak.
People in small towns and rural areas – or privileged enclaves – who don’t have that exposure are far more likely to be not just uncomfortable with, but even hostile to people who belong to ‘other’ groups. Their boundaries are thicker, and they are more aware of ‘them versus us.’ Their attitudes and their politics often reflect this, as we are seeing.
That said, these findings, like most generalizations, aren’t hard and fast rules and don’t necessarily hold up at the individual level. Thinking that they do is, well, prejudicial.