Are criminals just stupid?

by on January 28, 2011 at 4:54 am in Data Source, Law | Permalink

Kevin Beaver and John Paul Wright report:

An impressive body of research has revealed that individual-level IQ scores are negatively associated with criminal and delinquent involvement. Recently, this line of research has been extended to show that state-level IQ scores are associated with state-level crime rates. The current study uses this literature as a springboard to examine the potential association between county-level IQ and county-level crime rates. Analysis of data drawn from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health revealed statistically significant and negative associations between county-level IQ and the property crime rate, the burglary rate, the larceny rate, the motor vehicle theft rate, the violent crime rate, the robbery rate, and the aggravated assault rate. Additional analyses revealed that these associations were not confounded by a measure of concentrated disadvantage that captures the effects of race, poverty, and other social disadvantages of the county. We discuss the implications of the results and note the limitations of the study.

Hat tip goes to Kevin Lewis.  Elsewhere, again via Kevin, people believe they have more free will than do others.

1 russell12000 January 28, 2011 at 1:13 am

By impressive, I presume they mean that it was discussed even at the very early stages of developing the tests. Terman in particular seems to be associated with the idea.

Of course, if you are not very smart you are probably a bit more likely to get caught.

2 dirk January 28, 2011 at 1:46 am

A smart person figures out how to rip someone off in a legal way. A stupid person just rips someone off in an illegal way. Stupid people behave more illegally, not less morally. What you right wing fucks don't get is that it doesn't matter.

3 Jason (the commenter January 28, 2011 at 1:59 am

They can only measure the IQ of criminals who get caught. If they could have measured the IQ of people who commit crimes but don't get caught, the results might be very different.

And you know, speeding is a crime. What is the average IQ of people who refuse to drive over the speed limit? I bet they are also below average.

4 Brad Jobs January 28, 2011 at 3:07 am

Obviously, they had taken the iQs of those criminals that were caught which is simple dumb that is why they were caught in the first place. The smarter ones are still at large and knows how to evade the authorities.

5 dearieme January 28, 2011 at 3:50 am

"Really smart criminals figure out how not to be called criminals. That's what attorneys are for."

Is your "for" really necessary?

6 Jason January 28, 2011 at 4:20 am

If you truly believe the majority of smart criminals get away with their crimes, our criminal justice system is failing tremendously. If you believe that smart criminals, on average, get away with it more than dumb ones, then certainly this skews these results but doesn't necessarily make them irrelevant.

When I say criminals I mean criminals in a non-white collar sense. Perpetrators that are contributing to "the property crime rate, the burglary rate, the larceny rate, the motor vehicle theft rate, the violent crime rate, the robbery rate, and the aggravated assault rate".

This is common sense though. Those crimes are obviously low reward high risk.

7 *daniel January 28, 2011 at 5:06 am

I wouldn't say property crimes are low reward/high risk. They're mostly low reward/low risk. Burglary, vehicle theft, and robbery are very often not pursued or prosecuted. I speak from unfortunately extensive personal experience.

8 bbartlog January 28, 2011 at 5:33 am

For murder at least the 'smart criminals get away with it' argument doesn't wash. Generally 75+% of murders end up with someone convicted, and estimates of false convictions are in the low single digits; thus there is not some large number of smart people getting away with murder. In fact it seems as though most unsolved murders (at least in the US) are those in areas where police enforcement has partially broken down, e.g. Detroit or DC or East St Louis. More to do with a chaotic environment than some special genius on the part of the murderers.
Now for drug trafficking I could much more readily believe that those caught tend to be a stupider subset… not least because so many are not caught.

9 Lewis January 28, 2011 at 5:42 am

This is my number one complaint about the show The Wire: there are almost no genuinely stupid people on the show, even in the drug gangs. There's a scene in season 3 i think where stringer bell asks a room full of gangsters three questions about marketing, and three hands go up and three right answers are given. I don't think that would happen in a room full of marketing majors.

10 Jack January 28, 2011 at 6:18 am

As previous posters have said, IQ for criminals who are caught is a downward-biased estimate of IQ for all criminals. By much how though? Enough to explain the entire difference? Also, IQ is a measure of booksmart/abstract intelligence, not all intelligence. Someone who is less booksmart but more streetsmart will be at an advantage at criminal activity, and at a disadvantage for legal jobs that pay as well as crime does.

11 curmudgeo January 28, 2011 at 6:52 am

I wonder if the inability to distinguish between counties and countries and the urge to post angry, denunciatory comments is correlated with IQ. Among other things…

12 Yancey Ward January 28, 2011 at 7:40 am

This is my number one complaint about the show The Wire: there are almost no genuinely stupid people on the show, even in the drug gangs. There's a scene in season 3 i think where stringer bell asks a room full of gangsters three questions about marketing, and three hands go up and three right answers are given. I don't think that would happen in a room full of marketing majors.

Are we certain we know how smart marteting majors actually are?

13 albatross January 28, 2011 at 8:12 am

I always wonder how much of the IQ/everything correlations (crime, welfare, school success, income, lifespan) we see are driven by absolute effects (you have to be a certain level of smart to be able to do X), and how much by relative effects (in order to do X, you have to outcompete many other people who also want to do X and are smarter than you, and intelligence determines who comes out on top).

Let's imagine an average American with an IQ of 100, a solid high school education, and skill at some trade. Call her Alice. We have a big pool of Alices, and three isolated communities to which we will send them.

Smartistan is full of smart people, with an average IQ of 130.

Mediumistan is an isolated population with the same IQ distribution as we have here in the US, an average IQ of 100.

Dumbistan is full of dumb people, with an average IQ of 70.

When the Alices are sent to Mediumistan, they are average, so we might plausibly expect that they would have the same sort of outcomes as they have here in our world–about the same employment prospects, income, lifespan, crime rate, etc.

When they are sent to Smartistan, what happens? They're on the far left end of the bell curve there, in the bottom 1% of the population in terms of intelligence. What will happen to them? Will their life expectancy shorten? Will they become more likely to turn to crime or end up on welfare? Will they be able to be gainfully employed, or will they find themselves outcompeted for every job worth having?

How about when they're sent to Dumbistan? They're in the top 1% of intelligence in that isolated community. Will they end up with a longer lifespan? Will their likelihood of being involved in crime or ending up on welfare drop substantially?

My intuition is that a lot of the effect of intelligence (as measured imperfectly by IQ) is relative. That is, Alice may be a perfectly good auto mechanic in Mediumistan, but in Smartistan, she's competing with much smarter people for those jobs, and so she's at a big disadvantage. In Dumbistan, similarly, if she's an auto mechanic, she'll probably be the best one around, the one all the other mechanics send really hard problems to or ask for advice when they're stuck.

My intuition is that some of the effect is absolute–probably some very demanding fields become harder and harder, as you move down the intelligence ladder, even if you're the smartest guy in the room. I'd expect this to manifest itself in measurable interactions with reality–Alice in Dumbistan may end up as a cardiologist or a computer programmer. But I'd expect her patients not to do as well, or her programs not to work as well, as the folks who ended up in those fields in Mediumistan or Smartistan. Indeed, I'd expect that the Alices who made it in those fields in Mediumistan would also have better outcomes than those who made it in Dumbistan, because competition would have required those Alices to be much more capable in other ways–perhaps to have incredible work ethics or to obsessively study to keep up with their smarter colleagues.

But this is all supposition and intuition. I wonder what kind of data there is on any of this….

14 Bellisaurius January 28, 2011 at 8:29 am

I wish I was in college so I could actually look up the study and see the data set. I'm curious as to how linear the distribution is.

Looking at wikipedia to get a basic gist of the data, I can see the US is at a 98 (106 asian, 103 caucasian which would make us pretty high ranking, 85 africanamerican, 89 latino), which puts it at 19th. This isn't all that close to where we are in terms of murder and crimes rates, nor is it all that close to where we are in terms of economics (better on economics, worse on crime). I wonder how the inequality in IQ factors into other social issues both good and bad, and whether its an effect or a cause.

15 ORB January 28, 2011 at 10:09 am

"This article is right-wing agitation at its gayest."

I read comments like this and have a very hard time wondering how the speaker can manage basic relationship and employment issues.

16 Galpin January 28, 2011 at 1:11 pm

I think areas with a high level of state and county level IQ's will have a much lower rate of crime such as petty theft, burglaries, gang related shootings and stabbings. However they may have a high level of undetected level of white-collar crimes which are usually not monitored by local law enforcement. People at the bottom are committing crimes in order to survive while those at the top do so in order to gain power, status and to fill up their coffers with riches.

The less intelligent criminals break into cars and engage in petty theft and burglaries. The upper echelon criminals engage in white collar crime Enron style and for every shark that gets caught there are many that are undetected. At the top of the top there are possibly a few heads of states and top level government officials worldwide engaged in numerous illegal activities. The higher you go up in terms of status and money the less likely you are of getting caught.

17 Skeeter Bub January 28, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Most people in a population (Average of 68%) are small minded dullards who are satisfied with the pre-digested mediocrity that's shoved down their throats. In each population, a small minority strive to look past what's beyond their reach.

Most populations are comprised of idiots. They vote for idiots, they only do what the current media propoganda tells them to do, and they don't bother to research the facts and make informed decisions for themselves.

They get to a point where what they know, or what they can do, is enough for them, and think it ought to be enough for anyone else.

Their willful stupidity causes them to hate those who are not ignorant or who are informed. Non-ignorant people raise the bar for them, causing them stress and causing them to be confused because they might have to think more than they are used to thinking.

Intelligence agencies and religions can brainwash any average member of the public in 5 days or less. Studies show that each year of college one attends equals one additional week of brainwashing the spy agencies, religion, ad campaign, political party, etc. needs to undertake. Thus, the smarter one is, the harder it is get spoon-feed the agenda of others.

Rural communities, like the Deep South, have limited education facilities and limited social motivation to move beyond ignorance. These regions breed generation after generation of ignorant families. The music they surround themselves with uses the most ignorant forms of the language ("ain't", Y'all", etc.) and gutteral vocalizations (nasalization, drawl, etc.) in order to celebrate and reinforce ignorance and create a protective bubble around themselves in order to avoid the recognition of their intentional "dumbness" by the outside world.

Fear-mongering appeals to dumb people because they are only in touch with their most primal, superficial emotions. The media pundit fear-mongering causes self-justified hate that feels satisfying to them. They love violent contact sports for the same reasons.

That is the problem with society.

18 Steve Sailer January 28, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Criminal masterminds are much more common in movies than in real life. I've been on the lookout for at least 30 years for real life examples of criminal masterminds. I've come across a few, but not many. For example, once I'm watching the local news in Chicago, and there are about 12 North Shore suburban police chiefs crowded onto a stage holding a joint press conference: They've finally arrested the North Shore Silver Thief! This was guy who had broken into 1100 affluent homes over a decade or so and stolen the family silver. He'd been outsmarting the cops for years. The thief turned out to be the brother of a friend of mine who was the chief database architect where I worked.

But the vast majority of non-Bernie Madoff criminals have two digit IQs.

19 JL January 29, 2011 at 6:29 am

This study was about "associations between county-level IQ and the property crime rate, the burglary rate, the larceny rate, the motor vehicle theft rate, the violent crime rate, the robbery rate, and the aggravated assault rate". I think we can be pretty certain that regardless of how much undetected white-collar crime high-IQ people commit, they tend not to commit the types of crimes that the study was about.

20 Matt January 30, 2011 at 8:39 am

It appears this post hit too close to home for Dirk. Query: did he react as you would expect a low-IQ or a high-IQ person to react?

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