The Intelligence Paradox: Why the Intelligent Choice Isn't Always the Smart One - Satoshi Kanazawa 2012
Intelligence and Tastes for Music
Why More Intelligent People Like Classical Music
Two large, nationally representative data sets have asked questions about the respondent's musical tastes. One is the GSS, which I explain in the Introduction. The other is the 1986 follow-up to the British Cohort Study (BCS). The BCS is very similar to the NCDS; in fact, it was modeled after the NCDS. Just like the NCDS, the original sample of the BCS includes all babies born in Great Britain during one week in April 1970, and they have been followed periodically ever since. In 1986, when the respondents were 16, the BCS asked them a series of questions about what kinds of music they listened to.
In 1993, the GSS asked about the respondents' taste for 18 different kinds of music: “big band,” “bluegrass,” “country western,” “blues or R&B,” “Broadway musicals,” “classical,” “folk,” “gospel,” “jazz,” “Latin,” “easy listening,” “new age,” “opera,” “rap,” “reggae,” “contemporary rock,” “oldie,” and “heavy metal.” Even though it's difficult to classify entire genres of music as either entirely vocal or entirely instrumental, I nevertheless classify big band, classical and easy listening (“elevator music”) as largely instrumental, and the rest as largely vocal.
Jazz is a difficult case, as much of jazz is also purely instrumental. However, an earlier study18 found that more intelligent individuals prefer to listen to jazz. So classifying it as largely vocal, rather than largely instrumental, constitutes a conservative classification, which would make it more difficult for me to find evidence for the prediction that more intelligent people are more likely to prefer instrumental music. When it comes to statistical analysis, it is always good to be conservative rather than liberal. I believe the fact that so many established musical genres are vocal, and so few are instrumental, is in itself evidence that music in its evolutionary origin might have been vocal.
The 1986 follow-up to the BCS asked about the respondent's taste for 12 different kinds of music: “classical,” “light music,” “folk music,” “disco,” “reggae,” “soul,” “heavy rock,” “funk,” “electronic,” “punk,” “other pop music,” and “other.” I classify classical and light music (easy listening or “elevator music”) as largely instrumental, and the rest as largely vocal.
In addition, the 1986 follow-up to the BCS also asked the teenagers’ TV viewing habits, by asking whether they watched 22 different types of TV shows. Two of these 22 types refer to music: pop/rock music, and classical music. I therefore examine the effect of intelligence on watching TV programs on different genres of music.
Despite the fact that these surveys were conducted in different decades in different countries, they both support the prediction derived from the Intelligence Paradox.19 In the US, net of age, race, sex, education, family income, religion, whether currently married, whether ever married, and number of children, more intelligent individuals are more likely to prefer largely instrumental music (big band, classical, and easy listening) than less intelligent individuals. In contrast, intelligence is not associated with the GSS respondents’ preference for largely vocal music. Intelligence is also significantly associated with the difference in preference between instrumental and vocal music (the mathematical difference obtained by subtracting their average preference for vocal music from their average preference for instrumental music). The more intelligent the GSS respondents are, the greater their difference in preference between the two types of music.
The results are exactly the same for the 1986 BCS sample in the United Kingdom. Net of academic performance (all BCS respondents are still in school), sex, race, religion, family income, mother's education, and father's education, more intelligent British teenagers are more likely to prefer instrumental music (classical and light music) than their less intelligent classmates. In contrast, their intelligence is not associated with their preference for vocal music. As a result, their intelligence is also significantly associated with the difference in preference between instrumental and vocal music. The more intelligent the BCS respondents are, the greater the difference in preference between the two types of music.
Net of the same potential confounds, more intelligent BCS respondents are more likely to watch TV shows about classical music than their less intelligent classmates, despite the fact that more intelligent people enjoy watching TV less in general than less intelligent people.20 In sharp contrast, more intelligent BCS respondents are less likely to watch TV shows about pop/rock music. As a result, intelligence is very strongly associated with the difference in the viewing frequency of TV shows about the two types of music.
For illustrative purposes, here is the association between intelligence and preference for classical music among the GSS respondents. The GSS respondents who “like classical music very much” have the average IQ of 106.5. In contrast, those who “dislike classical music very much” (like myself) have the average IQ of 93.3. People who like classical music very much are more intelligent than those who dislike it very much by more than 13 IQ points! As you can see, the association between intelligence and preference for classical music is monotonic; the more they like classical music, the more intelligent they are. The probability that one would observe a pattern as strong as the one depicted in Figure 10.2 purely by chance, when there is actually no association between verbal intelligence and preference for classical music, is less than one in 100 quadrillion (or 100 thousand trillion or 100 million billion or 1017)!
Figure 10.2 Association between intelligence and preference for classical music: GSS
And here is the association between intelligence and whether they usually listen to classical music among the BCS respondents. As you can see, British teenagers who usually listen to classical music are much more intelligent than their classmates who don't usually listen to classical music, by more than 7 IQ points. The probability that one would observe a pattern as strong as the one depicted in Figure 10.3 purely by chance, when there is actually no association between verbal intelligence and preference for classical music, is less than one in 10 nonillion (that's 1 followed by 31 zeroes or 1031). In other words, it's less likely than impossible.
Figure 10.3 Association between intelligence and preference for classical music: BCS86