Intelligence and the ethnic composition of where people live may have a bearing on life satisfaction

Intelligence and the ethnic composition of where people live may have a bearing on life satisfaction

Intelligence and the ethnic composition of where people live may have a bearing on life satisfaction

The FINANCIAL -- Evolutionary constraints on the human mind may mean that we are adapted to be happiest when we live among people who are of the same ethnicity as ourselves, suggests new research published in the Journal of Research in Personality. However this effect is less strong among people with higher IQs.  

According to analysis of data from the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), on average, ethnic minorities in the United States have lower life satisfaction than White Americans, even taking into account sex, age, education and marital status. However, once the ethnic composition of an individual’s state or county of residence was taken into account, the ethnic differences in life satisfaction were eliminated – although this was found to be less true for Asian Americans.

African Americans and Asian Americans who live in counties where they are the numerical majority have just as much life satisfaction as White Americans do.

Dr Satoshi Kanazawa, of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Professor Norman Li of Singapore Management University, applied insights from evolutionary psychology to their findings. They hypothesise that the brain may have difficulty understanding and dealing with situations which did not exist in our ‘ancestral environment’ –  roughly the African savannah during the ice age.

Professor Li, Associate Professor of Psychology at Singapore Management University, said: “In our ancestral environment, living with others who looked, spoke and behaved differently from yourself usually meant that you had been captured or abducted by a neighbouring group or, at the very least, that you were living without the assistance and cooperation of your genetic kin and allies.

“Despite the fact that living among others of different ethnicities today, especially in the multi-ethnic societies like the UK or the US, is completely safe and does not threaten our survival, our brains may nonetheless experience such situations as a threat. As a consequence some people may suffer lower life satisfaction.”

The researchers also found that the link between ethnic composition of an area and life satisfaction was significantly stronger among individuals with lower IQs. Among more intelligent individuals, there was a much smaller difference in life satisfaction between those living in an area with a high proportion of their own ethnicity and those living in an area with a low proportion.

Dr Satoshi Kanazawa, Reader in Management at LSE, said: ”More intelligent individuals may face less difficulty in understanding and dealing with evolutionarily novel situations and be able to recognise an ethnically diverse society for what it truly is today – a benign and safe situation.”

He added: ”Our findings are emphatically not a prescription for life. We are not advocating that individuals move to areas where they would be in the ethnic majority and our conclusion is in no way a justification or endorsement of ethnic segregation.”

Kanazawa and Li tested and ruled out a large number of alternative interpretations of their results such as happier individuals moving to locations where they are the ethnic majority or ethnic minorities facing greater prejudice and discrimination where their numbers are smaller, and therefore being less happy.

They analysed data from 15,197 individuals aged 18 -28 surveyed for US Add Health in 2001-2002.