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Proc Biol Sci. 2010 Dec 22;277(1701):3801-8. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0973. Epub 2010 Jun 30.

Parasite prevalence and the worldwide distribution of cognitive ability.

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Biology Department MSC03 2020, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA.


In this study, we hypothesize that the worldwide distribution of cognitive ability is determined in part by variation in the intensity of infectious diseases. From an energetics standpoint, a developing human will have difficulty building a brain and fighting off infectious diseases at the same time, as both are very metabolically costly tasks. Using three measures of average national intelligence quotient (IQ), we found that the zero-order correlation between average IQ and parasite stress ranges from r=-0.76 to r=-0.82 (p<0.0001). These correlations are robust worldwide, as well as within five of six world regions. Infectious disease remains the most powerful predictor of average national IQ when temperature, distance from Africa, gross domestic product per capita and several measures of education are controlled for. These findings suggest that the Flynn effect may be caused in part by the decrease in the intensity of infectious diseases as nations develop.

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