The Ancestor Effect By Brian Simpson

         Going through my files I came across a remarkable paper that I intended to discuss years ago, but postponed it until it was forgotten, until now. Perhaps I should think of my ancestors more. I now explain.

         The paper in question is by P. Fischer (et al.), “The Ancestor Effect: Thinking about Our Genetic Origin Enhances Intellectual Performance,” European Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 41, 2011, pp. 11-16. The hypothesis is a remarkable one for a mainstream journal: thinking about one’s genetic origin, ancestors, increases intellectual performance by providing a “positive psychological resource.” This is the reason why people search for information about their ancestors and while most of us have photographs of our ancestors, used to navigate our identity. Our ancestors typically lived through tough times and exhibited resilience and resourcefulness. And “because we are the success of our ancestors and thus their genetic heritage, we tend to attribute successful problem-solving of our ancestors to our problem-solving abilities.” (p. 12)

         The psychologists set out to test the ancestor hypothesis, whether thinking about our ancestors increases test subjects’ expected as well as actual intellectual performance. We are not interested in the actual experimental methodology employed because we are impatient to know the results, without the headache of the statistical methodology to cloud things. Basically, their studies involved tests with people thinking about their ancestors, with the control test being “thinking about your last visit to a supermarket.” (p. 12)

         The conclusion of the study was that “thinking about our genetic origin can have substantial psychological effects on intellectual performance, promotion orientation and the experience of control.” (p. 150 The psychologists concluded that people facing situations requiring high level performance could use the technique of thinking about one’s ancestors, even those one did not know in the distance past, to increase intellectual performance.

         I take this as one more piece of evidence, that race, a generalisation of genetic heritage, is real and has causal effects. 

 

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Thursday, 30 June 2022