The Intelligence Paradox: Why the Intelligent Choice Isn't Always the Smart One - Satoshi Kanazawa 2012
Evolutionary Novelty or Cognitive Complexity?
Why More Intelligent People Like Classical Music
The analyses of two separate large, nationally representative data sets, with one sample of teenagers in the United Kingdom and another of adults in the United States, suggest that more intelligent individuals are more likely to prefer evolutionarily novel instrumental music than less intelligent individuals, while intelligence does not affect individuals’ preference for evolutionarily familiar vocal music. One potential objection to this conclusion is that the dimension of evolutionary novelty, captured by the distinction between instrumental and vocal music, is confounded with cognitive complexity of music, which is defined by chordal complexity (the number of chords, tones, and instruments used in the music and their interrelationships).
For example, classical music, which is largely instrumental, is also cognitively complex. It is probably the most cognitively complex form of music in human history. On the other extreme, rap music, which is almost entirely vocal, often to the exclusion of any discernible melodic structure, is also cognitively very simple. So critics may argue that the association between intelligence and preference for instrumental music may really be an association between intelligence and cognitively complex forms of music.
In order properly to examine and rule out this alternative hypothesis, I would ideally need a quantitative “cognitive complexity score” for each genre of music, in the form (classical = 5, jazz = 4.5, etc.). Further, such “cognitive complexity scores” would ideally have been validated and widely in use. I searched the literature extensively, and consulted several different experts in music perception, but have not been able to locate such “cognitive complexity scores” for different musical genres. They simply do not seem to exist. Yet most people seem to understand and agree intuitively that, for example, classical music and jazz are far more cognitively complex than, say, rap music. In the absence of quantitative and validated “cognitive complexity scores,” I must rely on such intuitive but widely shared senses of cognitive complexity of musical genres.
A potential problem with inspecting the association between intelligence and preference for each specific musical genre is that preferences for all musical genres are very highly correlated. It appears that there are people who like music and there are those (like me) who don’t, and those who like music like all types of music. For example, in the GSS data, preference for classical music is positively and significantly correlated with preference for both bluegrass and reggae music. In fact, it is significantly positively associated with 12 out of the 17 other genres of music. People who like classical music like to listen to most genres of music.
In Chapter 3, I explain the statistical technique called factor analysis. This is the technique psychometricians use to extract a common underlying factor—general intelligence—that explains individuals’ performance on all types of cognitive tests. Factor analysis can be used with any set of scores to extract what's common among them. If you submit GSS respondents’ preference for 18 different genres of music, factor analysis extracts only one underlying dimension. It means that one dimension—general preference for music—explains individuals’ preference for all types of music, just as one dimension—general intelligence—explains individuals’ performance on all types of cognitive tests.
So I examine the association between intelligence and preference for each genre of music, while holding constant preferences for all other types of music. The result shows that, as expected, preference for classical music is significantly positively associated with intelligence, net of preferences for all other types of music. However, preference for big band is even more strongly positively associated with intelligence than is preference for classical music. It would be difficult to make the case that big band music is more cognitively complex than classical music.
At the other extreme, as suspected, preference for rap music is significantly negatively associated with intelligence. However, preference for gospel music is even more strongly negatively associated with intelligence. It would be difficult to make the case that gospel is less cognitively complex than rap. (I might also point out in passing that, with its close link to religious rituals, gospel is a particularly evolutionarily familiar form of music.21)
At the same time, preference for opera, another highly cognitively complex form of music, is not significantly correlated with intelligence. Its nonsignificantly positive association is smaller than those for oldies, reggae, and Broadway musicals. It would be difficult to make the case that oldies, reggae, and Broadway musicals are cognitively more complex than opera.
These conclusions remain when I further control for the GSS respondent's age, race, sex, education, family income, religion, whether currently married, whether ever married, and number of children. When these additional controls are included in the statistical analysis, the positive association between preference for classical music and intelligence is no longer statistically significant, while the association between preference for big band and intelligence remains statistically significantly positive. With the additional controls, the association between preference for oldies and intelligence is statistically significantly positive. It would be difficult to make the case that oldies and big band are cognitively more complex than classical music. Other researchers22 have classified blues, jazz, classical and folk music as “structurally complex,” but, when preferences of all musical genres are controlled, preferences for none of these “structurally complex” genres are significantly correlated with intelligence. Preferences for folk and jazz are nonsignificantly negatively associated with intelligence. All in all, the analysis provides very little support for the view that more intelligent individuals necessarily and uniformly prefer cognitively complex genres of music.
The Intelligence Paradox applied to musical genres might therefore explain, among other things, why Jews and East Asians are more likely to excel as classical musicians and why most NPR stations throughout the country play classical and jazz music as their station themes. Purely instrumental music may be evolutionarily novel and therefore unnatural, and more intelligent individuals may have a preference for such unnatural genres of music.
4. Mithen (2005)
5. Brown (2000)
6. Bickerton (1990); Jackendoff (2000)
7. Wray (1998)
8. Mithen (2005, pp. 105—121)
9. Zuberbühler (2002, 2003)
10. Leinonen et al. (1991); Linnankoski et al. (1994)
11. Leinonen et al. (2003)
12. Mithen (2005, pp. 28—68)
13. Nettle (1983)
14. Everett (2005)
15. Everett (2005, p. 622)
16. Wray (2006, p. 104)
17. Fry (1948); Kalmus and Fry (1980)
18. Rentfrow and Gosling (2003)
19. Kanazawa and Perina (forthcoming)
20. Kanazawa (2006b)
21. Mithen (2005)
22. Rentfrow and Gosling (2003)