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See Inside October 2008

Searching for Intelligence in Our Genes

IQ is easy to measure and reflects something real. But scientists hunting among our genes for the factors that shape intelligence are discovering they are more elusive than expected



Cary Wolinsky

In Robert Plomin’s line of work, patience is essential. Plomin, a behavioral geneticist at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, wants to understand the nature of intelligence. As part of his research, he has been watching thousands of children grow up. Plomin asks the children questions such as “What do water and milk have in common?” and “In what direction does the sun set?” At first he and his colleagues quizzed the children in person or over the telephone. Today many of those children are in their early teens, and they take their tests on the Internet.

In one sense, the research has been a rousing success. The children who take the tests are all twins, and throughout the study identical twins have tended to get scores closer to each other than those of nonidentical twins, who in turn have closer scores than unrelated children. These results—along with similar ones from other studies—make clear to the scientists that genes have an important influence on how children score on intelligence tests.

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