Investigating the psychological differences between African-Americans and their Caucasian counterparts has been fraught with contention, an endless debate revolving around whether or not the lower IQ scores of African-Americans to Caucasians is to be attributed to either environmental or biological factors, or both. Caucasians and African-Americans endure a number of both physical and psychological differences—large variations in the rate of childhood development, brain size and what this implies about intelligence, as well as behavior. Evidence exists to suggest these differences lie in the general socioeconomic inferiority of African-Americans and stereotype vulnerability, while separate studies both prove and disprove the theory that admixture African-Americans (those of European descent) score higher on IQ tests and behave more like “whites.”
There is compelling, conflicting evidence in favor of African-Americans typically behaving more aggressively and impulsively than Caucasians as a result of genetics, while other evidence contends that this is a result of socioeconomic status. These various studies and theories concerning the behaviors and intellectual capacity of African-Americans versus their Caucasian counterparts will be explored and analyzed for accuracy in methodology and the implications of the results.
African-Americans, on average, excel in sports. They are born a week earlier than the average Caucasian, but their bodies mature at a much faster rate (measured by bone development). By age six, they are able to perform all the physical activities that require short bursts of energy, such as the high jump and the dash. Caucasians, however, do not have bones nearly as developed as the African-Americans, and do not exert especial skill in this area (Rushton, 1995). By adolescence and teenage years, African-Americans have faster reflexes, and anywhere from 3 to 19% more of the hormone testosterone, which means they are capable of exerting an incredible amount of energy, which benefits them for activities like boxing, basketball, football and sprinting (Rushton, 1995). For women, an earlier and quicker development means earlier periods and preparation for pregnancy, which can be a major contributing factor to why African-American women endure teenage pregnancy and marital strife more frequently and at a younger age than Caucasians (Herman-Giddens, 1997). African-American women are more geared towards reproduction, with their probability of having twins nearly double the rate of Caucasians, and even quadruple the rate of Orientals. They, on the average, are built with larger sex characteristics, higher hormone levels, and greater intercourse frequencies (Herman-Giddens, 1997).
These differences in physical development can account for behavioral distinctions between African-Americans and Caucasians, with a higher rate of African-Americans engaging in sports and pursuing professional careers in them than Caucasians, and African-American women having more children at a younger age.
Studies have been conducted to determine that African-Americans maintain a higher concentration of testosterone than Caucasians. This greater amount of testosterone would be responsible for the increased impulsive behavior that is observed in African-Americans, particularly in men, in the fact that African-Americans are nine times as likely to commit murder than Caucasians (Binkley, 1989). However, other research suggests that African-Americans do not have a higher concentration of testosterone, but rather estradiol, a sex hormone related to estrogen.
A cross-sectional study of 1413 men aged 20+ participated in this cross-sectional study of serum hormone concentrations measured by electrochemiluminescence immunoassays. After applying sampling weights and adjusting for age, body fat, alcohol, smoking and activity, no significant difference in testosterone levels between blacks and whites could be determined, with geometric means of 5.29 ng and 5.11 ng, respectively (Rohrmann, 2007). Therefore, testosterone, according to this study, is not the element responsible for the perceived impulsive behavior of African-Americans.
Another study attributes blame to the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) as cause for increased impulsiveness in African-Americans. The MAOA enzyme metabolizes norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine at the synapse, and a decrease in MAOA leads to increased agitation, aggressiveness and impulsiveness; individuals with this dysfunctional gene have a permanent chemical imbalance in their brain that causes them to behave in a more agitated manner. About .5% of whites have this MAOA dysfunction, while 4.7% of blacks have it (Rohrmann, 2007). This difference in brain chemistry encourage racial distinctions between African-Americans and Caucasians, with African-Americans, on the average, having a higher risk of a dysfunctional brain chemical that encourages impulsive behavior and violence, where this does not exist to the same degree in the average Caucasian. `This “dysfunction,” however, is often called the “warrior gene.” Its existence may be a due to the desire to defend and protect, which has manifested itself negatively in modern society because of the lacking need of such protection, and, as a result, has propelled forth bursts of violence that are not necessarily malicious in nature, but are intended to defend even the illusion of the a threat.
A number of studies have researched the variations in brain size between African-Americans and Caucasians with the intention of discerning what this implies about overall intelligence. Studies conducted using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has found a correlation of brain size with IQ to be .40 (Jensen, 1998). Larger brains contain more neurons and synapses and process information faster. These racial differences are present at birth and continue throughout a lifetime, with East Asians averaging one cubic inch more in cranial capacity than Caucasians, who in turn average five more cubic inches than African-Americans (Jensen, 1998). While this seems to be indicative of brain size equating IQ score and overall intelligence, there is some evidence that may suggest this correlation to be inaccurate, or have many unaddressed lurking variables that greatly affect these averages.
The brain size differences between males and females are much more significant than the brain differences between whites and blacks, and yet males and females tend to score the same on IQ tests. Similarly, a community in Ecuador have a genetic anomaly that produces very small heads (and small brains), yet their intelligence is scored as high as their “normal-brained” counterparts (Nisbett, 2007). About 25% of the genes in the American black population are European, meaning that the genes of any individual can range from mostly European to all African. If European genes are “smarter,” then those African-Americans who have more European genes should have higher IQ scores than those African-Americans with more African genes. But there are no conclusive studies to prove this. It would be expected that the smartest black children would have the most European genes, but when researchers inquired the smartest black children in the Chicago school system of the race of their parents and ancestors, they were not any more European than the blacks of the general population (Nisbett, 2007).
The greatest argument for the genetic-basis of intelligence and the significance of brain size lies on a study that showed black children who had been adopted by white parents still scoring lower on IQ tests than those of mixed-race children adopted by white parents (Nisbett, 2007). But this study is filled with flaws—namely, that black children had been adopted at a drastically older age than the mixed-race children, and later age adoption is related to low IQ scores.
Over the past decade, this racial disparity in IQ score has dropped appreciably, shedding light on the possible environmental factors at play
with regards to intelligence. A decade earlier, African-Americans had a much more difficult time pursuing an education, particularly at the college-level due to their financial inferiority. However, while the scores have improved the past years, they are still not equal, and it is impossible to determine whether or not this could be related to their continued socioeconomic hardship in relation to the Caucasian. On average, one in four black Americans are poverty-stricken or very poor, much higher than the rate of white Americans (Rowley, 2008). The esteem of education is not held in as high a regard as the typical, financially cozy white American would deem it.
There is no concrete, conclusive evidence to support that brain size measures intelligence, but this has not prevented the stigma from impacting the motivation for education of African-Americans.
In response to past research determining that brain size suggests intelligence and the average low scores of African-Americans on IQ tests, there has been an increased level of stereotype vulnerability, or the expectation that one’s membership in a stigmatized group will limit their individual ability. The African-American dropout rate is 70 percent, compared to a 42 percent rate across all groups nationally. Some attribute this exceptionally high dropout rate to lower motivation and achievement levels, but psychologist Claude Steele states that “the racial achievement gap is just as great among students testing at the 98th percentile – scores that presumably reflect high academic motivation and expectations – as it is among more typical students” (1996). Steele argues that both African-Americans and Caucasians testing at the 98th percentile share similar desires of motivation and achievement, and that this is not a contributing factor to the dropout rate.
Steele took a group of white male Stanford students and put them in a position of stigmatization—by indicating to the group as they were taking a test that Asians have tended to do better than Americans on. These students performed worse than the control group who was not informed of their superior Asian counterparts.
In another trial, Steele recruited both men and women students who strongly identified themselves with math—to the same degree. He then presented them with a difficult test at one time. It was expected that women would underperform in relation to the men on this test even though their skills were essentially the same. This was predicted because the relevant gender stereotypes would make the frustration they experience during the test much more self-threatening and harmful to their overall performance (Steele, 1996). The predictions are precisely what happened. They reason that the test is difficult and the woman will begin to realize her inferiority to men with regards to mathematics—just as the African-American yields to the stereotype of being less intelligent than the Caucasian when it comes to academics.
It is unknown how much stereotype vulnerability contributes to the overall scores and intelligence of African-Americans, but it cannot be argued that it is harmful and creates a larger disparity than there would be if the stereotype were not present. The negative stigma of African-American intelligence and the reiterated inferiority of their scores in comparison to Caucasians is detrimental to their own feelings of their individual abilities, and they do not think they are capable of transcending the stigma they have been relegated to.
African-Americans have been plagued by a stigma that deters them from aspiring for personal achievement. Caucasians may have bigger brains and higher IQ scores, but they also have never been stigmatized and declared less intelligent than other races in their country. Caucasians have never had to experience discrimination, and do not tend to be as poverty-stricken as the average African-American, creating for them less obstacles to overcome in order to prove their intellectual capacity.
African-Americans may behave, on the whole, more impulsively than Caucasians, but this is a variation in their brain chemistry that is not present in every African-American, and they should not be judged individually based on a societal stigma.
Intelligence is a very difficult aspect of the mind to measure, and measurements of intelligence may vary from culture to culture, effectively making the Euro-American designed IQ test irrelevant to the African-bred mind.
Regardless of the back-and-forth ceaseless controversy of which is the superior race, individuals are people and not a stereotype, and by the laws of the United States, should be treated as such. The stigmatization of African-Americans has proved detrimental to their academic pursuits and their individual sentiment of their own ability, and thus the minds and potential of an entire race have been effectively suppressed.
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