Sunday, 4 July 2010

Pathogens, parasites and IQ

The 3 July issue of The Economist has an interesting article Disease and Intelligence: Mens Sana in Corpore Sano. It’s based on the paper Parasite prevalence and the worldwide distribution of cognitive ability by Christopher Eppig, Corey L. Fincher and Randy Thornhill (all of the University of New Mexico), published ahead-of-print online as part of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Here’s their Abstract:

In this study, we hypothesize that the worldwide distribution of cognitive ability is determined in part by variation in the intensity of infectious diseases. From an energetics standpoint, a developing human will have difficulty building a brain and fighting off infectious diseases at the same time, as both are very metabolically costly tasks. Using three measures of average national intelligence quotient (IQ), we found that the zero-order correlation between average IQ and parasite stress ranges from r = −0.76 to r = −0.82 (p < 0.0001). These correlations are robust worldwide, as well as within five of six world regions. Infectious disease remains the most powerful predictor of average national IQ when temperature, distance from Africa, gross domestic product per capita and several measures of education are controlled for. These findings suggest that the Flynn effect may be caused in part by the decrease in the intensity of infectious diseases as nations develop.

Flynn effect? ‘Large increases in IQ over short periods of time as nations develop’ (reference in the Proc. Roy. Soc. B paper).

I would venture that tropical enteropathy (see blogs of 18 September, 19 September and 23 September 2009) has a role to play as well.

Here’s the figure that accompanied the article in The Economist: