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July 5, 2017

Why do people with higher IQs live longer? New study adds to the debate

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Children with higher IQs are likely to live longer than those with lower IQs, according to a study published last week in BMJ.

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According to STAT News, the study is the most comprehensive to date to examine the association between intelligence and longevity.

Study details

For the study, researchers examined data on 75,252 Scottish children born in 1936 who took a standardized intelligence test at age 11. The researchers then tracked those individuals over a 68-year period to determine the cause death among those who had died by age 79. The researchers were able to confirm a cause of death for 25,979 of them.

The researchers looked at various causes of death, including cancer, dementia, digestive disease, heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, and various external causes such as injury. The researchers controlled for factors such as socioeconomic standing and behavioral characteristics.


The researchers found people who scored in the top 10 percent on the childhood intelligence tests were 66 percent less likely to have died from respiratory disease by age 79 than those in the bottom 10 percent. Individuals in the top 10 percent were only half as likely to have died from digestive diseases, heart disease, smoking-related cancers, stroke, and external factors, such as injury.

The researchers also found a link between higher childhood intelligence and a lower risk of death from dementia.


"We don't know yet why intelligence from childhood and longevity are related, and we are keeping an open mind," said Ian Deary, the senior author of the study and a professor of differential psychology at the University of Edinburgh. "Lifestyles, education, deprivation, and genetics may all play a part."

The researchers said lifestyle choices, such as smoking, could play a large part in the connection between intelligence and longevity.

However, they said genetics or other factors could also play a role because the link between intelligence and longevity remained even after controlling for socioeconomic factors such as smoking.

In an accompanying editorial, two Swedish researchers, Daniel Falkstedt and Anton Lager, wrote that the causes of death featured in this study were "to a great extent, dependent on already known risk factors."

They wrote, "Tobacco smoking and its distribution along the socioeconomic spectrum could be of particular importance here. It remains to be seen if this is the full story or if IQ signals something deeper, and possibly genetic, in its relation to longevity" (Joseph, STAT News, 6/28; Bachert, MedPage Today, 6/28; Bakalar, "Well," New York Times, 6/28).

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