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THE IQ/AGGRESSION CONNECTION

Numerous studies link low IQ to violent behavior, delinquency, and adult crime. In fact, as Bruce Bower recently noted in Science News, "Intelligence deficits make up one of the most firmly established characteristics of criminal offenders as a whole." But critics suggest that this may simply mean that high-IQ criminals are more likely to avoid capture.

A new study by Peter Giancola and Amos Zeichner, however, suggests that IQ and aggression are strongly linked even in non-criminal males. The researchers, who tested 30 males between the ages of 18 and 36 years, found "strong inverse correlations between IQ and aggressive behavior under both high and low provocation conditions."

Subjects in the study were told that they would be competing with an unseen opponent on a reaction-time test. They were seated in an experimental chamber and told to press a lever immediately upon seeing a red light on a console. Each subject was told that winning a trial would allow him to shock his opponent, while losing a trial would cause him to be shocked by the opponent. Five levels of shock, ranging from imperceptible to painful, were available.

(Researchers used a number of ruses to convince subjects that their opponents were real. In reality, however, shocks were delivered to participants according to a prearranged schedule.)

The researchers measured the intensity of the shocks administered by subjects to their fictitious opponents, and found that lower-IQ subjects were significantly more likely to deliver strong shocks than higher-IQ subjects. This was true even when the fictitious opponents delivered mild shocks.

"These results help bolster the hypothesis that possessing a high IQ may serve as a `protective factor' against the expression of anti-social or aggressive behavior," the researchers say. They note that their results support an earlier study by Kandel et al. which found that criminals' sons who became criminals themselves had significantly lower IQs than criminals' sons who did not participate in criminal activity.

Giancola and Zeichner add that "If this `protection' hypothesis is indeed correct, children with IQs in the lower range of the distribution should qualify as the main targets for violence prevention programs."

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"Intellectual ability and aggressive behavior in nonclinical-nonforensic males," Peter R. Giancola and Amos Zeichner, Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, Vol. 16, No. 2, 1994. Address: Amos Zeichner, Department of Psychology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-3013.

--and--

"Criminal intellects," Bruce Bower, Science News, Vol. 147, April 15, 1995.

Related Articles: [1996, Vol. 2]