Science and Technology

Are You Genetically Smart?

New findings link genes and intelligence

brain and genes


  • Current scientific research [Nature] has revealed 52 genes that are suspected to contribute to intelligence. [The New York Times

  • 40 are new discoveries credited to Geneticist Danielle Posthuma. [MIT Tech Review]

  • Posthuma used a study called GWAS (Genome-Wide Association Study), which combined past intelligence studies with new data from 78,000 individuals.
3b7a00e90b66ea9f4823305cb1410008Institute 4 Learning

Dr. Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligence

  • Posthuma and her team looked for any associations between specific genes and IQ scores.
  • According to the study, the intelligence genes only account for 5% of "the variation in IQ scores." [The Guardian]
  • That means about 95% of intelligence differences in the sample is not a result of genes.



While this research marks a significant step in understanding the brain, there are some who worry that the allure of these findings could lead to unethical genetic engineering. [Vox]


It has been scientifically documented that both nature (genes) and nurture (environment, experiences, education, etc.) are important for development. The American Psychological Association expresses “no doubt” that development requires a healthy environment [APA]. Even the researchers involved in the GWAS, including Posthuma, cautioned that the public should not begin to believe that genetics are fully responsible for intelligence. [National Institutes of Health], [Nature] However, if someone is born with one or more of the 52 genes, do they have a head start?



Well-known "Minnesota Study of Twins..." found that identical twins raised in different households (environments) have an extremely similar IQ. [The Wall Street Journal]


Dr. Posthuma and colleagues found the same results when studying identical twins. [The New York Times]




Many studies have found that adopted siblings raised in the same environment have different IQ scores. [National Institutes of Health]




The intelligence genes found in the GWAS study were found in the nervous system. This can help researchers understand how intelligence works biologically. [Nature Genetics]


The genes also found a connection between the intelligence genes and Autism. This evidence could contribute to new discoveries regarding the condition’s origins, which may lead to treatment and more effective intervention. [NBC News]




Environmental factors play a “profound” impact on how intelligence is formed.


Dr. Stuart J. Ritchie made an analogy between intelligence and vision: "Nearsightedness is strongly influenced by genes. We can change the environment to improve eyesight." [The New York Times]


Growth Mindset

Dr. Carol Dweck at Stanford University observed the impact of learning beliefs on brain plasticity. [Mindset Works]

  • The connectivity between neurons can change with experience and how you view learning.

  • “When students believe they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger. Therefore, they put in extra time and effort, and that leads to higher achievement.”

Personality impact

Simonton found that geniuses tend to be “open to experience, introverted, hostile, driven, and ambitious.” [Time] Do these personality traits impact their intelligence?


  • Research continues in this area.

  • The highly complex nature of the brain makes manipulating genes to increase intelligence very difficult because many genes perform more than one function. [Science]

Key Vocabulary