Intelligence Is in the Genes, but Where?

You can thank your parents for your smarts—or at least some of them. Psychologists have long known that intelligence, like most other traits, is partly genetic. But a new study led by psychological scientist Christopher Chabris of Union College reveals the surprising fact that most of the specific genes long thought to be linked to intelligence probably have no bearing on one’s IQ. And it may be some time before researchers can identify intelligence’s specific genetic roots.

Chabris and David Laibson, a Harvard economist, led an international team of researchers that analyzed a dozen genes using large data sets that included both intelligence testing and genetic data.

In nearly every case, the researchers found that intelligence could not be linked to the specific genes that were tested. The results are published online in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“In all of our tests we only found one gene that appeared to be associated with intelligence, and it was a very small effect. This does not mean intelligence does not have a genetic component. It means it’s a lot harder to find the particular genes, or the particular genetic variants, that influence the differences in intelligence,” said Chabris.

It’s important to remember that we aren’t flowers, that intelligence is immensely more complex than the color of petals. There isn’t an “intelligence gene,” but rather a bunch of genes that influence it both individually and in cooperation with others. In addition, we aren’t positive on how the nurture-vs-nature relationship works in either. 

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