Genetics and IQ: 5 Findings

Source:, Sep 2014

five genetic findings that are special to intelligence differences and that have important implications for its genetic architecture and for gene-hunting expeditions.

  1. The heritability of intelligence increases from about 20% in infancy to perhaps 80% in later adulthood.
  2. Intelligence captures genetic effects on diverse cognitive and learning abilities, which correlate phenotypically about 0.30 on average but correlate genetically about 0.60 or higher.
  3. Assortative mating is greater for intelligence (spouse correlations ~0.40) than for other behavioural traits such as personality and psychopathology (~0.10) or physical traits such as height and weight (~0.20). Assortative mating pumps additive genetic variance into the population every generation, contributing to the high narrow heritability (additive genetic variance) of intelligence.
  4. Unlike psychiatric disorders, intelligence is normally distributed with a positive end of exceptional performance that is a model for ‘positive genetics’.
  5. Intelligence is associated with education and social class and broadens the causal perspectives on how these three inter-correlated variables contribute to social mobility, and health, illness and mortality differences.

These five findings arose primarily from twin studies. They are being confirmed by the first new quantitative genetic technique in a century—Genome-wide Complex Trait Analysis (GCTA)—which estimates genetic influence using genome-wide genotypes in large samples of unrelated individuals. Comparing GCTA results to the results of twin studies reveals important insights into the genetic architecture of intelligence that are relevant to attempts to narrow the ‘missing heritability’ gap.

Intelligence … is also one of the most stable behavioural traits, yielding a correlation of 0.63 in a study of people tested at age 11 and then again at age 79.

for intelligence, heritability increases linearly, from (approximately) 20% in infancy to 40% in adolescence, and to 60% in adulthood. Some evidence suggests that heritability might increase to as much as 80% in later adulthood47 but then decline to about 60% after age 80.48

A meta-analysis of 11000 pairs of twins shows that the heritability of intelligence increases significantly from childhood (age 9) to adolescence (age 12) and to young adulthood (age 17).



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