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Are Smart People Less Racist? Cognitive Ability, Anti-Black Prejudice, and the Principle-Policy Paradox

Publication Abstract

Download PDF versionWodtke, Geoffrey. 2013. "Are Smart People Less Racist? Cognitive Ability, Anti-Black Prejudice, and the Principle-Policy Paradox." PSC Research Report No. 13-803. October 2013.

It is commonly hypothesized that higher cognitive abilities promote racial tolerance and a sincere commitment to racial equality. An alternative theoretical framework contends that higher cognitive abilities enable members of a dominant racial group to articulate a more refined legitimizing ideology for racial inequality. According to this perspective, ideological refinement occurs in response to shifting patterns of racial conflict and is characterized by rejection of overt prejudice, superficial support for racial equality in principle, and opposition to policies that challenge dominant group privilege. This study estimates the impact of cognitive ability on a comprehensive set of racial attitudes, including anti-black prejudice, views about black-white equality in principle, and racial policy support. It also investigates cohort differences in the effects of cognitive ability on these attitudes. Results suggest that high-ability whites are less likely than low-ability whites to report prejudicial attitudes and more likely to support racial integration in principle. Yet despite these liberalizing effects, high-ability whites are no more likely to support a wide variety of remedial policies for racial inequality. Results also suggest that the liberalizing effects of cognitive ability on anti-black prejudice and views about racial equality in principle emerged slowly over time, consistent with ideological refinement theory.

Country of focus: United States.

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