Chabris and David Laibson, a Harvard economist, led an international team of researchers that analyzed a dozen genes using large data sets that included both intelligence testing and genetic data.
In nearly every case, the researchers found that intelligence could not be linked to the specific genes that were tested. The results are published online in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
“In all of our tests we only found one gene that appeared to be associated with intelligence, and it was a very small effect. This does not mean intelligence does not have a genetic component. It means it’s a lot harder to find the particular genes, or the particular genetic variants, that influence the differences in intelligence,” said Chabris.
It had long been believed, on the basis of studies of identical and fraternal twins, that intelligence was a heritable trait. The new research affirms that conclusion. But older studies that picked out specific genes had flaws, Chabris said, primarily because of technological limits that prevented researchers from probing more than a few locations in the human genome to find genes that affected intelligence.
“We want to emphasize that we are not saying the people who did earlier research in this area were foolish or wrong,” Chabris said. “They were using the best technology and information they had available. At the time, it was believed that individual genes would have a much larger effect — they were expecting to find genes that might each account for several IQ points.”
Chabris said additional research is needed to determine the exact role genes play in intelligence.
“As is the case with other traits, like height, there are probably thousands of genes and their variants that are associated with intelligence,” he said. “And there may be other genetic effects beyond the single gene effects. There could be interactions among genes, or interactions between genes and the environment. Our results show that the way researchers have been looking for genes that may be related to intelligence — the candidate gene method — is fairly likely to result in false positives, so other methods should be used.”
For more information about this study, please contact: Christopher F. Chabris at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article “Most Reported Genetic Associations With General Intelligence Are Probably False Positives” and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300