Why is Average IQ Higher in Some Places?

A surprising theory about global variations in intelligence

Christopher Eppig 

Disease puts pressure on the brain Image: iStock/Nathan Watkins

Being smart is the most expensive thing we do. Not in terms of money, but in a currency that is vital to all living things: energy. One study found that newborn humans spend close to 90 percent of their calories on building and running their brains. (Even as adults, our brains consume as much as a quarter of our energy.) If, during childhood, when the brain is being built, some unexpected energy cost comes along, the brain will suffer. Infectious disease is a factor that may rob large amounts of energy away from a developing brain. This was our hypothesis, anyway, when my colleagues, Corey Fincher and Randy Thornhill, and I published a paper on the global diversity of human intelligence.

A great deal of research has shown that average IQ varies around the world, both across nations and within them. The cause of this variation has been of great interest to scientists for many years. At the heart of this debate is whether these differences are due to genetics, environment or both.

Higher IQ predicts a wide range of important factors, including better grades in school, a higher level of education, better health, better job performance, higher wages,  and reduced risk of obesity. So having a better understanding of variations in intelligence might yield a greater understanding of these other issues as well.

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