The Differences Between Races and Intelligence

From the lecture series: Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science

By Steven Gimbel, Ph.D., Gettysburg College

In 1972, American geneticist Richard Lewontin published a paper entitled, “Apportionment of human diversity”. He said that we cannot deny that there are differences between races in terms of physical appearance and other characteristics, but he had a worry that sociopolitical biases derived from social experiences of humans were being carried over to the realm of science.

The IQ test results of 905 children in 1916.
Score distribution chart for sample of 905 children tested on 1916 Stanford–Binet Test. (Image: Terman, L.The Measurement of Intelligence/Public domain)

Recognizing the Patterns

If we want facts and not our biases to decide our belief in whether there are deeper consequences of the observable differences between races, we have to find if the variation at the micro level and the standard division of race is in any way related to each other.

We also need to have a look at the human inconsistency that occurs within the group and across the groups and understand if there are any set patterns.

Richard Lewontin was not the first person who worked on this line. German race scientists collected samples from different populations and closely examined them. The Nazi scientists tried to find some observable differences between the blood of Aryans and non-Aryans, but they had a shock in store as they found absolutely nothing that could stand the test of science. This failure resulted in them examining more deeply. However, the irony was that this research program, which had an absolutely racially biased view of the world gave rise to major advancements in hematology or the study of blood. 

This is a transcript from the video series Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

Lewontin’s Research

For his research, Lewontin had to separate the human race into many different subgroups. He then collected the blood samples of these subgroups and examined them to see if there was any evidence of variation in their genes. His findings shocked those also who had, so far, held the accepted belief that the basis for the racial division was biological.

The genetic variations among people are quite significant, but, interestingly, the highest degree of variation is within the group and not across the groups. When we have a look at the differences between races, only 6.3% of the differences between humans can be accounted for. If the race is anything, it almost does not account for any differences between humans. Almost all of the variability—93.7%—that we see in the whole of the human race happen within the races. 

Difference Between Races and Intelligence

Lewontin broke down races into subgroups, not just looking at the comparison of Europeans with Asians only but also having a look at Brits and Armenians. So, it means that any number of lines can be drawn between us and them, but in the end, they are more dissimilar within themselves than from us.

So, perhaps Immanuel Kant was right at least in his last step which said that the real differences between races are pointed out by skin color or global origin in the working of the mind.

Learn more about the rediscovery of the mind.

Intelligence and the Size of the Skull

Therefore, at the turn of the 20th century, there was an effort by craniologists and phrenologists to determine intelligence by the size and characteristic bumps on the skull. They showed that certain groups had bigger heads because they were smarter and hence superior, thus trying to generalize their findings to race.

But, to their misfortune, the measurements did not come out as they had expected. The fact was that people of their own culture did not have brains larger than the others. And moreover, the most respected members of their societies didn’t have the largest brains among them.

So phrenologists and craniologists decided to move from studying the brain size to checking the relative sizes of the parts of the brain. The thinking was that since the higher functions of the brain are situated in the frontal lobe, and more primitive elements are in the center, so maybe the overall size of the brain is not all that important, rather a comparison should be made of the relative size of these parts of the brain.

But even this idea did not work. The differences between races, that they expected to find, were not found.

Learn more about the theories of Sigmund Freud.

The IQ Test Is Developed

A portrait of Alfred Binet.
Alfred Binet created the first practical IQ test. (Image: Nlm.nih/Public domain)

But once the scientists discarded behaviorism and mind, and made a return in psychology, a change in how the science of race proceeded was also seen.

French psychologist Alfred Binet developed an IQ test. The intelligence quotient was not the same for Binet as we now think it is. Binet assumed that every human being could be well educated. Maybe, it would take some people longer than others. All individuals had different cognitive skills, but this difference was not big when deciding how far a student could go or how much longer he or she would take to reach there.

An IQ test would determine how many extra resources we would require to enable an individual with a lower IQ to reach the same level as an individual with the highest IQ. But in the end, all could be equally smart. Therefore, for them, IQ differences between races were not practical things.

IQ Tests in America

But everything changed when H. H. Goddard brought the idea to America. That facade of equality was taken off and the judgment of the innate intelligence of the worth of an individual was started to be done by his or her IQ.

Goddard developed tests that showed that the immigrant groups had a considerably higher rate of feeble-minded individuals. These individuals were given the technical name, “morons”. According to him, these inferior people would consume greater amounts of cultural resources and the society would get much less from them in return. So he argued that for the good of the country, immigration must be stopped.

Common Questions about Differences Between Races

Q: Who developed the IQ test?

French psychologist Alfred Binet developed the IQ test.

Q: Can intelligence be determined by the size of the skull?

No, intelligence cannot be determined by the size of the skull.

Q: What is H. H. Goddard known for?

H. H. Goddard developed IQ tests that showed that the immigrant groups had a considerably higher rate of feeble-minded individuals. These individuals were given the technical name, “morons”.

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