Week in Ideas

Christopher Shea, Wall Street Journal, February 12, 2011

Intelligence: Brahms on the Brain

If brought back to life, early humans might grasp “American Idol,” but they’d be stumped by a Brahms symphony. According to one theory, music began, evolutionarily speaking, with expressive vocalization, and instrumental music (and bigger brains) arrived much later.

After statistically correcting for socioeconomic factors, researchers found that higher IQ did predict a preference for instrumental over vocal music.

To test out a correlation between intelligence and preferring the nonvocal classics, researchers drew on the 1993 edition of the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center. The 1,600 participants were asked to rate their enjoyment of 18 musical genres on a 1-to-5 scale. Half also took a vocabulary test, converted to an IQ score.

After statistically correcting for socioeconomic factors, the researchers found that higher IQ did, indeed, predict a preference for instrumental over vocal music. The researcher’s “instrumental” genres were classical, big band and easy listening. Those who liked classical music a lot had an average IQ of 107; those who hated it scored 93.

“Why More Intelligent Individuals Like Classical Music,” Satoshi Kanazawa and Kaja Perina, Journal of Behavioral Decision Making (forthcoming)

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