What is it to be high-K?

A review of:

J. Philippe RUSHTON (1995). Race, Evolution and Behavior: a Life History Perspective. New Brunswick, NJ : Transaction Publishers. ISBN 1-56000--146-1 pp. xviii + 334.

For the past decade, Phil Rushton has worn with dignity and distinction the mantle that passed from Sir Cyril Burt to Hans Eysenck and Arthur Jensen. Like his mentors, Rushton has spurned simplistic social environmentalism and fanciful, anti-measurement idealism. Daringly, he has provided sociobiological speculation to complement the hereditarian realism of the London School. In particular, he has argued that support for biological influences on character can be derived from racial differences in anatomy; and he has concluded that groups' differences in 'social organization' versus 'reproductive effort' reflect long-running differences in evolutionary strategies. As a result Rushton has been reviled, intimidated and deprived of most of the honours to which his citation rate entitled him. For the funding without which no modern psychology professor is complete, he has had to call upon the White-American Pioneer Fund.

      Race, Evolution and Behavior brings together Rushton's evidence for five main claims.

      (i) Personality differences have been under-rated in social science; and "about 50 percent of the variance in human social behaviour seems to be of genetic origin." (ii) There is a suite of racial differences in personality and lifestyle that can be ranged along a continuum from Black to White to Asian (B-W-A). (iii) The B-W-A continuum is an example of the r-K distinction made by some biologists between those species that breed at a high rate (r groups) and those that delay breeding to 'invest' in characteristics that the environment can be expected to carry (K groups). High-K's usually invest as parents; and their investment assumes the predictability of relevant physical and social parameters. (iv) Anatomical correlates for these B-W-A and r-K differences are found in the relative size and productivity of the organs of generation and cogitation -- in, as it were, a trade-off between sexual and intellectual specialization. "Succinctly summarized," the theory is "More brains, fewer eggs, more K." (v) The "fertility paradox", that populations of European origin have negative growth, can now be resolved. Close behind the Asians, Europeans are higher-K types who have evolved to exploit the harsh but predictable ecosystem outside bountiful but unpredictably disease- and drought-ridden Africa. Far from lacking sociobiological flair, they have merely exchanged short-term fertility for lifestyles of economic achievement that do more to pass on their genes in the long term to distant generations via their admittedly infrequent progeny. However, like other "ruling groups" of the past, their problem is how to fend off "new arrivals" from "ethnic taxa that have never initiated a civilization" (p.274): for that is how "degeneration sets in."


What is to be made of Rushton's arguments and apprehensions?


Rushton presents the personological claims of the London School with an enthusiasm that is amply justified by recent empirical work and the collapse of 'situationist' theorizing among social psychologists. In particular, Rushton shows there is plenty of consistency in behaviour when studies use reliable, 'aggregated data' -- e.g. averaging records of moods or social contacts over a number of items or days or judges; and he successfully presents people's selection and creation of their own micro-environments (e.g. the amount of TV seen) as a major route by which genes influence final personality and cultural level. It is true to say that Rushton is not very frank about the many correlations of merely .20 that are found between fraternal twins; and, unlike Bouchard (1994), Rushton declines to handle the psychogenetics of personality in terms of the Big Five (or Six) dimensions of modern factor-analytic psychology. Yet there is a reason: Rushton has a heritable personality dimension of his own from which the dimensions of other psychologists would prove a distraction.


Starting gently enough, Rushton considers the advantages of like marrying like, the probable innateness of xenophobia, and the history of scholars' attempts to describe other races. Yet what are the broadest racial distinctions that are made worldwide? Galen said it first, apparently: the Negro has "a long penis and great merriment." Muslim scholars followed this up by 1070 with claims that sub-Saharan Africans lacked "self-control and steadiness of mind and are overcome by fickleness, foolishness, and ignorance" -- though the Slavs and Bulgars ('frigid temperament and dull intelligence') came off little better; and Marco Polo thought there was "no more intelligent race on earth than the Chinese." Today, figures collected by UN agencies show B-W-A differences for crime (especially for rape and robbery), for suicide (which does not tempt Black people), for age of loss of virginity (with twice has many Black girls having the hymen broken by 18), for heterosexually transmitted diseases, for out-of-wedlock births, and for multiple female orgasms per coitus (with 50% more Black females reporting such enjoyment). These are all variables on which there are skewed frequency distributions in the general population; skew always suggests the multiplicative, interactive influence of a number of factors; and similarity for 'deviance' is strong when both biological and environmental criminogenic features are shared (as by identical twins). Yet genetic-environmental multiplicative interactions are not to provide the answers that will satisfy Rushton.
      Rushton characterizes the social and sexual differences between the races as running along the lines of activity versus restraint. Evidently, he has in mind a relatively broad extraversion factor of the kind that Eysenck used to propose as distinguishing the criminal from the law-abiding (Eysenck, 1964). Putting it another way, in terms of the Big 5 (or 6) dimensions, what is being envisaged is an outright opposition of extraversion versus conscientiousness (e vs c). Now, pace the 'converging consensus' on the Big 5 (or 6), it can be argued that a broad e vs c dimension does indeed 'exist' at some rather basic level of analysis -- and can be seen when personality measures do not pick up intellectual variations (Brand, Egan & Deary, 1993). However, Rushton abjures such argument. Instead, he seeks support for his e vs c contrast from still wider correlations: with 'aggressiveness' and 'dominance' ( = Big 5 Disagreeability / will ?), and with higher 'self-concept' ( = Big 5 Stability / non-neuroticism ?). To complete the package of B-W-A differences Rushton may as well wheel in intelligence -- and so he does. Apparently the psychology of B-W-A is to involve somehow virtually all the distinctions known to modern psychometrician-psychologists. It is:

extraversion plus aggression
conscientiousness, anxiety
plus general intelligence.

This unitarianism about B-W-A makes for drama and clarity; however, it has three drawbacks. (a) Whereas the racial differences on skewed distributions of behavioural variation look solid enough, no individuals (let alone groups) seem ever to have been assessed on a suitably weighted combination of Rushton's favourite five psychometric dimensions.
(b) As Herrnstein & Murray (1994) show, IQ on its own is quite capable of explaining plenty of variance in educational drop-out, unemployment, crime, sexual mishaps and welfare dependency (especially across the lower reaches of IQ).
(c) Rushton's bold unitarianism obliges him to unearth personological effects beyond the causal influence of both social class and IQ. Alas, he has no such evidence -- just as Herrnstein & Murray find that Black criminality and employment problems are no greater than can be expected from below-average Black IQ.

r - K

Rushton really does believe the B-W-A differences are underpinned by just one dimension -- itself genetically determined and under selection pressure for higher-K during the Ice Age. Can Rushton's hypothetical psychometry of B-W-A be rescued by the theoretical coup of linking it to biological r-K? There are four problems, as follows.
      (a) If it occurs, r-K polarization of people and races should yield plenty of positive correlations between theoretically affected variables -- between family size, early dentition, early puberty, school failure, self-confidence, sociability, permissive attitudes, frequency of heterosexual penetration, birth frequency, divorce and venereal disease. In his concluding chapter Rushton offers a Table (13.1) in which a few positive correlations between such variables across individuals are actually claimed. Yet most of the Table's relevant cells are empty; and, for a quantification-minded psychologist, Rushton is worryingly shy about the size of his correlations. Anyhow, current differences between human groups and individuals in procreation rate are largely due to differences in contraceptive prevalence (see Prothero's (1994) summary of work by the Population Information Program of Johns Hopkins University).
      (b) Is there some other way of pinning down what really is Rushton's r-K idea? Well: With whom would people be kindred spirits on discovering that they, too, were high-K? The superficial answer to this, 'the Asians', may not be as inviting to some as Rushton supposes, especially if the Rape of Nanking, the wartime policy of cannibalism against Australian soldiers, the crushing of Tibet, the mass-murderous Cultural Revolution, the wholesale abortion and infanticide of females, Pol Pot's genocide, the occupation of East Timor, the bloodbath of Tianenmen Square, the jingoism of 1990's China or the 100,000 Korean sex-slave girls of Tokyo's 'Soaplands' come to mind. Yet worse is in store for the broad-brush biological speculator. Usually, in Rushton's writing, it is implied that r-K contrasts the disciplined, quasi-corporate states of Asia with the AIDS-ravaged, national-socialist-redemption diseconomies of Africa; or perhaps high-K gorillas, elephants and whales with conspicuously r-indulgent house-mice, oysters and Drosophila. However, it turns out that these are by no means the final end-points of the r-K dimension in biology. That the ultimate high-r species (shortest physical lengths and generation spans) are the bacteria, E.Coli, B.aureus and Pseudomonas should gratify fans of K. But those who are content to emulate the Asian, the whale or even the presumably lower-g rhinoceros must still brace themselves: for, if their aspirations were realized, they would have for company the balsam, the birch, the fir and the sequoia. Yes: the ultimate in K is to be a tree -- though seaweed comes close behind. Clearly, Rushton's routine about the competent social organization, law-abidingness and parenting skills of high-K's lacks relevance. The thing about being a tall tree is to reach the sunlight, occlude other trees, and spread one's own seed further and wider so that offspring do not have to grow up in overcrowded conditions. If the smallest degree of intelligence were involved in it, this strong-and-silent strategy would be the quintessence of intra-specific aggression!
      (c) Once physical height and length stand revealed as cardinal cross-species correlates of K, even Rushton admits (pp.215-6) that his package of variables has some awkward protrusions. However high-K the Asians may be, they have yet to enjoy the reliable food surpluses that would allow the nutritional investment in height that has taken place in the West. Perhaps they are locked into unimaginative forms of competition from which their recent success in manufacture -- like their former success in communal rice-growing -- will provide but temporary relief.
      (d) Why would races not keep options open on both the r and the K strategies -- perhaps going for quantitity or quality in breeding in accordance with circumstances and opportunities? Rushton's e vs c contrast resembles one between cars having motors and having brakes; but cars, at least, only market well when they have both. Obligingly enough, Rushton admits (p.207) that some biologists actually view r and K as orthogonal rather than opposed; but this undiscussed throw-away will enrage readers who have been moved to convert to Rushton's usual unitarianism.

Anatomical trade-off

Amid the uncertainties about the psychology of r-K, Rushton's interest in organ sizes might provide terra firma; and Rushton is able to report that the correlation between IQ and brain size estimated from magnetic resonance imaging now reaches .43. Yet, however corrected, other brain indices correlate much lower (e.g. head size shows a weighted r of .18 with IQ across 29 studies). Anyhow, the overall argument is flawed. It is not just that estimates of W-B brain superiority vary alarmingly across even the best studies -- by a factor of 1-in-12.5 in one study, but by a factor of merely1-in-86 in another; or even that the W-B difference is typically 0.2 standard deviations -- at most a fifth of the size of the W-B difference in IQ. The big problem is that, in both Blacks and Whites, male brains are bigger than female brains by an entire standard deviation despite females roughly equalling males in general intelligence. Instead of relying on IQ results and a few interactions to explain the bulk of his data, Rushton has been distracted into irrelevance by anatomy -- as he is by 'complex' and 'odd-man' reaction time data that also yield only tiny and unreliable fractions of the racial difference that is found for IQ.
      Is any greater relevance exhibited by racial differences in penis length? At least across primate species, modern scholarship finds no link between penile length and sexual vigour, athleticism or success with females (Diamond, 1991). Apparently it is testes, not penises, that expand to meet the requirements of male 'sperm competitions'; and, though penile length may once have helped in male-to-male dominance displays, the perils of frostbite to Arctic hunters would have reorganized their priorities. On the other hand, the small penises of orang-utans and gorillas would seem to provide no trustworthy token of diminutive sexual tackle being associated with civilization and refinement. For the present, the sociobiological value of a big brain-to-bodyweight ratio and a small penis is no clearer than that of the alternative arrangement that is traditionally more popular in all races among males themselves.

The "fertility paradox"

Strangely enough, Rushton is not prepared to say much about politics. In this resembling Herrnstein and Murray, he is anxious about the future but denies bearing ammunition for the political Right. A swipe at Robespierre and a kindly paragraph on Gobineau content him. He considers his job done by warning of the dangers of the European high-K strategy. However, in urging tighter immigration control Rushton sacrifices political correctness for no very obvious practical gain. After all, the West is hardly being deluged with migrants from Africa. So is his underlying analysis correct?
      In terms of 'r-K theory', the "European populations" might just be argued to have adopted quality rather than quantity in procreation, as befits possessors of food surpluses and military supremacy. Small families could just be the West's response to the sociobiological imperative; and linking Third World aid to birth control would complete the plan. However, the West has a fast-growing proportion of welfare-dependent children, often from lower-IQ mothers (and fathers), and a spectacular fertility decline among the better-educated. Moreover, while brighter Western girls wait for their promised careers and enjoy occasional safe sex for fun with their musical idols and kindred modern saints, brighter young males increasingly report they are not just partnerless but are even stuck with their virginities in their twenties. Under Islam, a young man can at least look forward to youthful wives as and when he becomes a successful adult. Under Hinduism even young men can have sex, romance and children so long as they come from good families. By contrast, the West offers late marriage, devitalized nuclear families, mass-scale pornography, growing prostitution and redistribution of income to the low-IQ. In today's circumstances, the West should be looking at the eugenic polygynous arrangements of Islam or the long-lasting child marriages of Hinduism rather than at the high-K option of Asian statism, a twelve-hour working day, standing-room-only swimming pools, schoolchild suicides, and group sexcursions to the Philippines. Instead of worrying about immigration leading to European degeneration, Rushton should have queried whether a genuinely higher-K race would be letting its lower-K members do the bulk of the procreation. Strangely drawn to the 'social organization' of corporate K, Rushton makes too little room for expanding intelligent liberty instead. For example, simply permitting all and any marital contracts would have eugenic effects and cut the West's dole and dependency queues at a stroke: for many Western females only want careers (and can thus become 'unemployed') because they cannot currently obtain the marital arrangements that they desire (i.e. a reasonably affluent, emotionally devoted and legally committed male). Curiously anxious about immigration, Rushton ignores the dysgenic over-organization that prevents Western adults making contracts of their choice.


Sometimes -- as with the classic exercise of explaining away Hartshorne & May's 'situationist' account of honesty and altruism -- Rushton writes with a clarity and vision that is reminiscent of Eysenck's great hymns to differential psychology. Rushton summarizes modern methods and findings while relating them to important themes -- an ideal combination for the student; he rehearses the conventional criticisms of his work fairly and deals with many of them successfully; and his Muslim scholars are a great find -- "if an African were to fall from heaven to earth, he would beat time as he goes down" (IBN BUTLAN, 14th century). Undoubtedly, Race, Evolution and Behavior is the best wide-ranging read in differential psychology since Jensen's (1981) Straight Talk about Mental Tests. (The Bell Curve is more specialized.) Additionally, thanks to the hysteria of his politically correct opponents, Rushton has been able to do service for the London School through times of constructivist irrationalism. Sadly, his version of r-K theory still has all the defects from which it suffered when he first proposed it ten years ago; and his own martyrdom could soon come to resemble that of Under Milkwood's good-time girl, Saint Polly Garter, who was forever "martyred again last night." It is now time for Rushton to help understand the Big 5-or-6 dimensions of personality and the interaction effects that they may generate; and to put the martyr's robes in the wash. In so far as there is one really important dimension for psychology, it is g, and not r-K; and the main racial differences are explicable by g differences. Rushton's work is a testimony to these points, for all that that he himself has been seduced by speculative biology. He should now return to the individualism of the London School before his errors are understood by truth-abjuring cultural relativists as much as by his allies in realism.

chris brand
department of psychology
university of edinburgh


BOUCHARD, T.J., Jr. (1994). 'Genes, environment and personality.' Science 264, 1700-1701.

BRAND, C.R., EGAN, V. & DEARY, I.J. (1993). 'Personality and general intelligence.' In G.L.Van Heck, P.Bonaiuto, I.J.Deary & W.Nowack, Personality Psychology in Europe 4, 203-228.

DIAMOND, J. (1991). The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee. London : Vintage.

EYSENCK, H.J. (1964). Crime and Personality. London : Routledge & Kegan Paul.

HERRNSTEIN, R.J. & MURRAY, C.M. (1994). The Bell Curve. New York : Free Press.

JENSEN, A.R. (1981). Straight Talk about Mental Testing. London : Methuen.

PROTHERO, R.M. (1994). 'Reproductive revolution.' Newsletter of the Galton Institute, No. 13, 2-4.

Published in Personality and Individual Differences 19, 3, 411-413, 1995.

PS  For further consideration of r-K, see McDougall NewsLetter, Winter 1998/9 (January 12th).

For more on differential psychology, go to the Home Page of 'London School' psychologist Chris Brand.

Last modified: 6 i 1999