“He Kept The Faith”–A Conversation With Richard Lynn: Part Two

This interview is from the recent festschrift Race and Sex Differences in Intelligence and Personality, reviewed by John Derbyshire here. The interview is conducted by Danish psychologist Helmuth Nyborg [Email him], and, since Lynn’s career has run over 60 years, it’s long enough that is being run in three installments.

[Earlier, Part One]richardlynn

HN: So then you needed a job.

RL: Yes, and I obtained a lectureship at the University of Exeter. I was now to enter the wilderness years and did not succeed in doing anything that I considered significant for the next twelve years.

In 1959 I published a paper Environmental conditions affecting intelligence, in which I said that it was now established that genetic factors are the major determinant of intelligence, but that environmental factors are also involved. I proposed that these consisted of the quality and quantity of cognitive stimulation from others in the family.

I suggested that this explained the tendency for only children to have the highest IQs, and for IQs to decline with increasing family size, and also that eldest and youngest children have higher average IQs than those in the middle of the family. I sent the paper to Sir Cyril Burt, who replied with a friendly letter saying that he agreed with me. After this, I corresponded with Sir Cyril from time to time and I always found him very friendly and helpful.

HN: Your theory of the quality and quantity of cognitive stimulation from others in the family as the environmental determinant of intelligence sounds like the so-called Zajonc effect.

RL: Yes, Zajonc later formulated a very similar theory and managed to get his name attached to it. However, I do not find this annoying because I now think that Joseph Rodgers (2001) has disproved the theory.

HN: What did you do next?

RL: I fell under the spell of Hans Eysenck’s theory that he published in 1957 in his book The Dynamics of Anxiety and Hysteria. In this he extended [Clark] Hull’s theory to individual differences. He proposed that extraverts generate Hull’s concept of reactive inhibition more rapidly than introverts. From this assumption he derived a lot of deductions, for which he provided evidence in his book.

One of the most important of these was that introverts would form conditioned Pavlovian anxiety reactions more rapidly than extraverts, and one of his researchers named Cyril Franks demonstrated that this was so. On the basis of this result, Eysenck proposed that children become socialised by developing anticipatory anxiety reactions to disapproval and punishment, and that this process would occur more rapidly in introverts.

HN: This theory of Eysenck’s was obviously very ambitious.

RL: Indeed. But I love big theories, and this was huge. It embraced Pavlovian neurophysiological concepts, Hull’s behaviour system, the introversion-extraversion personality dimension, the social concepts of tough-mindedness and tendermindedness, and political attitudes. I was enthralled by the theory and began testing some of the deductions that could be made from it.

HN: And how did this go?

RL: Some of them worked but others didn’t. In 1959 I wrote up a paper on one of those that worked, and sent it to Hans Eysenck. He replied very warmly and said he would lend me some apparatus if I wanted to do some more work. He invited me to London to collect this and stay the night with him and Sybil, which I readily accepted.

Talking with Hans was a real meeting of minds and unlike anything I had experienced before. I did some more work and published several papers on Eysenck’s theory. I extended it to the deterioration of performance with age and proposed that this could be explained by an increase in reactive inhibition.

Remarkably, in 1960 it was published in Nature.During the 1960s, I worked on a variety of topics, including teaching two-year olds to read and Russian psychology, but none of them led anywhere, and I became quite depressed with my failure to make any significant progress in my academic career.

HN: This brings us to 1967, when you quit the University of Exeter and took up a position in Ireland.

RL: Yes, I was appointed research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in Dublin, where I worked until 1972.

The brief was to carry out research on the economic and social problems of the country. So I settled down to investigate the economic and social problems of Ireland and think about what contribution I could make to finding public policies that would help solve them. The major problem was the economic backwardness, and when I researched the literature it was not long before I discovered that the Irish had a low average IQ.

So I formulated the theory that the low IQ was likely a significant reason for the economic backwardness. The solution for this problem was obvious. What was needed was a set of eugenic policies that would raise the Irish IQ.

HN: This sounds a bit scary!

RL: Indeed. I reflected on the likely headlines I would get if I wrote one of the monographs that the ESRI produced analysing the problem and its solution. Headlines like Professor Advocates Sterilising The Mentally Retarded and Incentives For Graduates To Have More Children! I didn’t see these going down well.

Ireland is a deeply conservative and Catholic country and the Catholics had been the only group that opposed eugenic programs in the first half of the twentieth century, when everyone else thought these were sensible. Virtually no-one supported eugenic programs any more and anyone who proposed doing so would be accused of being a Nazi.

HN: And how did you deal with this problem?

RL: I chickened out! I did not think I could go public on this, so I sat on it for 35 years. It was not until 2002 when I published IQ and the Wealth of Nationswith Tatu Vanhanen that I set out the theory. Nevertheless, I did write something on the issue in a circumspect way. In 1968 I published The Irish Brain Drain. It reported research showing that there was a high rate of emigration of graduates from Ireland, and warned that this would reduce the average IQ of the remaining population.

I looked next at some of the demographic and epidemiological characteristics of Ireland to see if I could find any problems I could tackle. The first thing I noticed was that the Irish have an exceptionally high rate of psychosis.

I knew that chronic hospitalised psychotics, consisting mainly of those with simple schizophrenia and retarded depression, have a low level of anxiety. I wondered whether a low level anxiety in the population might explain the high rate of psychosis and looked at other data that might corroborate the theory.

I took the 18 economically developed nations for which there were reliable statistics and examined calorie consumption, coronary heart disease, caffeine and cigarette consumption as indices of low anxiety, and suicide rates, alcohol consumption, and road accident death rates as indices of high anxiety.

I factor analysed the inter-correlations and found a general factor that accounting for about 50% of the variance and identified this as anxiety. The final step was to treat the nations as if they were individuals and use the data to score the nations on the anxiety factor. The result was that Ireland emerged as the nation with the lowest level of anxiety.

HN: How about the other nations? Could you find any pattern there?

RL: Yes, the northern Europe nations also had low anxiety, while the southern European nations and Japan came out as the high anxiety nations. It seemed likely that there are genetic differences in anxiety among the northern and southern sub-races of Europe, and between Japan and Europeans. This was my first excursion into the thorny field of racial differences.

HN: This was quite a sophisticated study. I wonder how many people understood it and how it was received.

RL: There were certainly a lot of people who did not understand it. However, it was received quite well by the more sophisticated. Burt wrote a generous introduction—“what I should like chiefly to commend are the methods he has adopted”. I believe this was the last thing that Sir Cyril wrote. Hans Eysenck was enthusiastic and it was this that inspired Hans and Sybil to begin collecting questionnaire data for neuroticism and extraversion, and later for psychoticism, from numerous countries that was to occupy them for the next thirty years or so.

HN: And how has your theory survived these last forty years?

RL: The theory has survived quite well among researchers on cross-cultural differences in personality. In 1985 Phil Rushton extended the theory in his book Race, Evolution and Behaviorin which he reported that North East Asians obtain higher scores on anxiety than Europeans, confirming my conclusion that the Japanese have a high level of anxiety.

David Lester expanded the theory further and found that it held up in a data set of 32 nations. Geert Hofstede and Robert McCrae have written that “A breakthrough in the study of national cultures was Richard Lynn’s book Personality and National Character and have confirmed the same national differences in anxiety.

HN: We have come to the year 1972 and you were soon to leave Dublin.

RL: Yes, I had completed my work on national differences in anxiety and was keen to develop my ideas on national and racial differences in intelligence. But because I had discovered the low IQ in Ireland, I did not think it possible to do this while I was in Dublin. So I had to look for a new base. Then in the fall of 1971 the University of Ulster advertised for a professor to set up a psychology department. I thought this would suit me, so I sent in an application, was offered the job, and accepted.

So in 1972 I moved to Ulster and began my work on national and racial differences in intelligence.

Richard Lynn’s story will be continued tomorrow.

Interviewer Helmuth Nyborg is professor emeritus at Aarhus University.