What Caused over a Century of Decline in General Intelligence? Testing Predictions from the Genetic Selection and Neurotoxin Hypotheses

Michael A. Woodley of Menie, Matthew A. Sarraf, Mateo Peñaherrera-Aguirre, Heitor B. F. Fernandes, David Becker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Several converging lines of evidence indicate that general intelligence (g) has declined in Western populations. The causes of these declines are debated. Here, two hypotheses are tested: (1) selection acting against genetic variants that promote g causes the decline and (2) the presence of neurotoxic pollution in the environment causes the decline. A linear mixed model was devised to test (1) and (2), in which the secular decline in a “heritable g” (g.h) chronometric factor (comprised of convergent indicators of simple reaction time, working memory, utilization frequencies of high difficulty and also social-intelligence-indicating vocabulary items and per capita macro-innovation rates) was predicted using a neurotoxin chronometric factor (comprised of convergent secular trends among measures of lead, mercury and dioxin + furan pollution, in addition to alcohol consumption) and a polygenic score chronometric factor (comprised of polygenic score means for genetic variants predictive of g, sourced from US and Icelandic age-stratified cohorts). Bivariate correlations revealed that (other than time) only the polygenic score factor was significantly associated with declining g.h (r = .393, p <.05 vs. .033, ns for the neurotoxin factor). Using a hierarchical linear mixed model approach incorporating 25 year lags between the predictors and g.h, time period, operationalized categorically as fifths of a century, accounted for the majority of the variance in the decline in g.h (partial η 2 = .584, p <.05). Net of time period and neurotoxins, changing levels of polygenic scores also significantly predicted variance in the decline in g.h (partial η 2 = .253, p <.05); however, changing levels of neurotoxins did not significantly predict variance in g.h net of time (partial η 2 = .027 ns). Within-period analysis indicates that the independent significant positive effect of the polygenic score factor on g.h was restricted to the third fifth of a century period (β = .202, p <.05).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)272-284
Number of pages13
JournalEvolutionary Psychological Science
Volume4
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2018

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