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IQ vs Genetics

16 November 2012, 13:43

There has been controversy in the academic community about the heritability of IQ ever since research began in the 19th century.

The study of the heritability of IQ investigates the relative importance of genetics and environment for phenotypic variation in intelligence quotient (IQ) in a population.


"Heritability" is defined as the proportion of variance in a trait which is attributable to genotype within a defined population in a specific environment. Heritability takes a value ranging from 0 to 1; a heritability of 1 indicates that all variation in the trait in question is genetic in origin and a heritability of 0 indicates that none of the variation is genetic. The determination of many traits can be considered primarily genetic under similar environmental backgrounds.

Various studies have found the heritability of IQ to be between 0.7 and 0.8 in adults and 0.45 in childhood.

It may seem reasonable to expect that genetic influences on traits like IQ should become less important as one gains experience with age. However, that the opposite occurs is well documented. Heritability measures in infancy are as low as 0.2, around 0.4 in middle childhood, and as high as 0.8 in adulthood.

If there is biological inheritance of IQ, then the relatives of a person with a high IQ should exhibit a comparably high IQ with a much higher probability than the general population.

In biology, and specifically genetics, epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene expression or cellular phenotype caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence.

It refers to functionally relevant modifications to the genome that do not involve a change in the nucleotide sequence.

Epigenetic changes can modify the activation of certain genes, but not the sequence of DNA.  Additionally, the chromatin proteins associated with DNA may be activated or silenced. This is why the differentiated cells in a multi-cellular organism express only the genes that are necessary for their own activity. Epigenetic changes are preserved when cells divide. Most epigenetic changes only occur within the course of one individual organism's lifetime, but, if gene disactivation occurs in a sperm or egg cell that results in fertilization, then some epigenetic changes can be transferred to the next generation.

This raises the question of whether or not epigenetic changes in an organism can alter the basic structure of its DNA???

Epigenetic mechanisms were a necessary part of the evolutionary origin of cell differentiation. Although epigenetics in multicellular organisms is generally thought to be a mechanism involved in differentiation, with epigenetic patterns "reset" when organisms reproduce, there have been some observations of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance.

Several neurophysiological factors have been correlated with intelligence in humans, including the ratio of brain weight to body weight and the size, shape and activity level of different parts of the brain. Specific features that may affect IQ include the size and shape of the frontal lobes, the amount of blood and chemical activity in the frontal lobes, the total amount of gray matter in the brain, the overall thickness of the cortex and the glucose metabolic rate.

Developed nations have implemented several health policies regarding nutrients and toxins known to influence cognitive function. These include laws requiring fortification of certain food products and laws establishing safe levels of pollutants (e.g. lead, mercury, and organochlorides). Improvements in nutrition, and in public policy in general, have been implicated in worldwide IQ increases.

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