Thursday, 8 May 2014

LCI14 Figueredo: The Cognitive Ecology of Mexico

Title: The Cognitive Ecology of Mexico: Climatic and Socio-Cultural Effects on Life History Strategy and General Cognitive Ability

Authors: Tomás Cabeza de Baca, Ph.D. * & Aurelio José Figueredo, Ph.D.

* Corresponding Author: Division of Family Studies and Human Development, Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, United States of America 85721-0078 (

Presenter: Director, Graduate Program in Ethology and Evolutionary Psychology, Department of Psychology, School of Mind, Brain, and Behavior, College of Science, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, United States of America 85721-0068 (

Researchers have repeatedly found associations at the population level between the aggregate reproductive life history strategies and general cognitive abilities of human societies, but no such association have been found at the individual level between the life history strategies and general cognitive abilities of individual persons. This phenomenon has been dubbed The Rushton Paradox.

Among intelligence researchers, there are two broad explanations for differences between human populations regarding general cognitive abilities, health, and quality of life. One explanation for group differences, referred to as Differential-K Theory, suggests that group differences emerged based on ancestral environmental conditions, denoting that climate may have played a key role in modifying survival and reproductive strategies, including cognitive abilities. In this view, populations that were forced by circumstances to endure colder, harsher climates needed the cognitive flexibility to adjust and plan for the uncontrollable upheavals of the “hostile forces of nature”, whereas populations in warmer climates did not require the more advanced cognitive tools that were presumably essential in the colder, harsher climates. Thus, different groups developed different survival and reproductive strategies, and these included varying levels of general intelligence. Alternatively, according to Social Privilege Theory, higher levels of developed human capital, derived from socioeconomic resources, improve the quality of life of individuals within a group, thus producing group noticeable disparities in intelligence when resource-rich groups are contrasted with resource-deprived groups.

The present study sought to reconcile both explanations by proposing and providing a preliminary test of the integrated model of Human Cognitive Ecology. This model suggests that there are many ecological and social levels working in a hierarchical cascade. Our integrated model of human cognitive ecology specifically investigated how both ecological and sociological factors impact biodiversity in state-level life history strategies and general cognitive abilities in Mexico. Population-level statistics were collected from an assortment of Mexican national agencies on thirty-one Mexican states and the Federal District (N=32). This integrated model of human cognitive ecology revealed that, at the state level: (1) slower life history strategy was significantly predicted by higher population density, as expected by evolutionary theory; (2) greater human capital was significantly predicted by slower life history strategy, dryer climate, and warmer climate; and (3) higher general cognitive ability was significantly predicted by greater human capital, dryer climate, and cooler climate.

We propose that this integrated model provides a possible solution to The Rushton Paradox, in that slower life history strategy promotes the development of greater human capital as an emergent property of increased social complexity at the group level rather than at the individual level. This effect is attributable to the more highly cooperative, coordinated, and uniquely mutualistic social dynamics naturally generated by societies of slower life history strategists, including higher levels of differentiation and specialization in cognitive abilities. In this view, the greater economic productivity of such societies is mediated by the effects of Ricardo’s Law of Comparative Advantage., whereby cooperating networks of specialists are expected to economically outproduce corresponding aggregates of generalists. Implications and future directions for both human life history and general intelligence research are discussed.

Get the full presentation here:


  1. Economists (those very few) who work with IQ have also noted the difference in IQ/income correlation between the individual level and the country level. The current fashion is to explain the disparity in terms of a model with network or coordination effects resulting in positive externalities. The specific production model is based on the O-ring theory of economic development which is a neutral human capital theory model without reference to IQ, but IQ is the most robust proxy for human capital.

  2. Don't know about the Ricardian approach, though. I mean, all market exchange presupposes some degree of comparative advantage, unless you are Robinson Cruesoe the ultimate autarkist.

  3. Thanks. Will see if AJ Figueredo can comment on that. In the mean time I note that the (cleverly named theory) has this to say about human beings: "workers are imperfect substitutes for one another". Yep. Some brighter and more diligent than others. The ring of cooperation, in my view, is a consequence of each bright worker matching themselves to the task which most require their talents. Of course they then stratify by job/intellect but their job moves become increasingly specialised.

  4. What do you think of this here :

  5. I had read the "poor productivity of Indians" section in A Farewell to Alms and internalised it. Then you have dug up the paradox of Indians doing well when they are transplanted "when Indian labour was transplanted outside of India and employed in the UK (postwar Indian immigrnats in British textile mills), South Africa and East Africa, this labour quality issue largely disappeared. They can’t quite figure out why."
    One obvious reason is that they were not transplanted. The chaotic ones stayed in India being Indian, and the enterprising ones got the hell out, first to Britain, and now to the Gulf, where they are boosting the local IQ. Indian ability varies enormously from caste to caste
    Different persons, all called Indians.

  6. Yes, self-selection also occurred to me, but that's always the handy go-to mechanism for overseas migrants that we posit. It would be nice to actually track and confirm. We know migrants are always a very non-representative sample of the homeland. Caste details would be too much to hope for ! But I would be satisfied with just a complete ethnic profile of the Indian diaspora populations around the world, along with their their income, educatioal characteristics, etc., in one convenient database. Also for the Chinese diaspora around the world. Those are the wants that I want, the desiderata that I desire. A comparison of Chinese & Indian diasporas would be fascinating. One could do an HBDchick-type research slog to construct a database but I’m a lazy person.

  7. The mother of all self-selection arguments has to be Botticini & Eckstein on the Jews. They don’t call it that — in fact anti-hereditarians seem to cite them for their arguments — but in the last book Clark was also thinking along the same lines as me because he cited B&E in his bibliography and used essentially the B&E argument about the Jews to account for the Copts in Egypt and (inverse B&E) Muslims in India. I think of B&E as an evolutionary argument for Jewish intelligence, but by attrition of the less rich/intelligent via conversion, and it complements rather than competes with the Cochran-Harpending thesis. But Cochran just doesn’t like the idea. And I think he rejects it for fairly soft or mushy historical reasons which are open to dispute. My starting point is, both Ashkenazim & Mizrahim have higher IQ than their immediate non-Jewish neighbours. The Ashkenazi intelligence surplus over Europeans can’t be explained by the same process as the Mizrahi surplus of ~1/2 SD over Arabs. I agree with that. But Cochran wants to explain the Mizrahi surplus not by changes in Jewish demographics, but by dysgenic effects on the Middle East population after the Arab conquest, i.e., non-Muslim religious minorities in the Middle East supposedly more representative of pre-conquest population & Arab conquerors introduced Arabian peninsula & African gene flow into the Middle East. Obviously I don’t dispute that gene flow but given the amount of conversion suggested in historiography, the attrition thesis put forward by B&E I find much more plausible as the expanation for the Mizahim. But who knows maybe there was both Jewish attrition and Arab dysgenics. As I note in the West Hunter comments I think the Sephardim are problematic for many reasons.

  8. Frankly, I was not aware of the “O-ring theory of economic development”, and have spent the wee hours of this morning today looking it up. Thanks for the tip!

    From my preliminary reading, it would appear that the O-ring theory is consilient with our model of human cognitive ecology. Although we did not mention it in the present paper, not considering it directly relevant, our lab has documented a cross-cultural tendency for higher levels of assortative pairing among both social and romantic partners (“friends and lovers”) among slow life history strategists, having made that prediction based on evolutionary-ecological reasons rather than economic theory. We already have two articles in print (one theoretical and one empirical), and another one under review, in which this logic and the supporting data are presented:

    Figueredo, A.J., & Wolf, P.S.A. (2009). Assortative pairing and life history strategy: A cross-cultural study. Human Nature, 20, 317–330.

    Wolf, P.S.A., & Figueredo, A.J. (2011). Fecundity, offspring longevity, and assortative mating: Parametric tradeoffs in sexual and life history strategy. Biodemography and Social Biology, 52(2), 171-183.

    I am still not certain whether the effects upon economic productivity described by O-ring theory would have been another source of selective pressure for assortative pairing in slow life history strategists over evolutionary time, but it is an intriguing possibility to pursue. If it had, it would have been at the level of intergroup competition within a multilevel selection framework, because I don’t see how it could operate at the level of individual selection. I will have to think more about how this interesting hypothesis could be empirically tested.

    Anyway, thanks for the interesting contribution!

  9. Thanks. Most interesting.

    I saw in the latest PISA results that the top scoring Mexican metropolis was Aguascaliente, which I wasn't familiar with. It turns out to be high and dry at 1800 meters (6200 feet). But it's flat, so it's not scenic and doesn't attract tourists, so I hadn't heard much about it. I thought maybe this would be an investment opportunity, but it turns out that Nissan discovered it years ago and is now building a second auto assembly factory there.

  10. The first author of our paper, Tomas Cabeza de Baca, recently sent in an extended additional commentary, but it was so long that James put it in its own separate thread. Those who are interested in this work should go there as well for the follow-up descriptions he provides. Mine is rather dry and abstract, but Tommy tells a more human story...

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