60-Second Science

Intelligence Averages Linked to Regional Infectious Disease Burden

In a correlational study lower average regional intelligence was found to be linked with higher infectious disease rates. Perhaps because the metabolic demands of the brain are great and resources are diverted to fight disease. Karen Hopkin reports

Over the years, people have put forth a lot of theories to explain why intelligence differs, from person to person and even around the world. Health, wealth, schooling, nutrition, and even climate have all come up. Now, researchers at the University of New Mexico suggest that parasites might play a role. They find that the prevalence of infectious diseases can be a powerful predictor of regional smarts. Their work appears in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. [Christopher Eppig, Corey Fincher and Randy Thornhill,]

It takes a lot of energy to build and operate a human brain. This needy organ commands 87 percent of the body’s metabolic budget in infants, and about 25 percent in adults. So things that sap our energy are likely to hinder our intellectual growth. That’s why malnourishment’s not good for the mind.

But what about parasites? Fighting off nasty bugs can take a lot out of you. So the scientists got to wondering whether excessive infections might correlate with impaired cognitive development. Looking at IQs from around the world, they found that high levels of infectious disease go hand in hand with lower average national intelligence.

Although the authors have not demonstrated cause-and-effect, it’s nice to think that taking down parasites could bring up our IQs.

—Karen Hopkin

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

See also Does national IQ depend on parasite infections? Er...

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