How to Be Smart: Intelligence Linked to 500 Genes in Large New Study

Everyone aspires to be better in some way—to be richer, funnier, smarter. But some attributes are more malleable than others. When it comes to intelligence, a new study says it’s rooted in your genes. About 500 of them, in fact. 

Related: The Irish Have Much More Viking DNA Than Previously Thought, Genetic Study Reveals

3_13_2018 Albert Einstein often serves as the model for intelligence. A new study says that this trait could be tied to more than 500 genes. Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Intelligence is broadly defined as our ability to learn and adapt, which involves problem solving, thinking abstractly and planning. But how someone becomes intelligent is difficult to assess, in part because how it is defined and measured varies. And research has been torn over whether intelligence comes from nature—meaning it's written in our DNA—or nurture, meaning it can be taught and bestowed through upbringing. 

Prior research has shown a strong link between this highly coveted trait and our genes. A study published in Nature Reviews Genetics in January revealed that differences in someone’s DNA can determine intelligence heritability by 20 to 50 percent. In 2017, research published in Nature Genetics linked intelligence to 52 genes.

A new study in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the largest to date focused on whether genes predict our brain power, researchers from the University of Edinburgh and Harvard compared DNA in more than 240,000 people worldwide. Then, they looked at the subject’s scores on verbal and numerical assessments given to measure intelligence. The team found that intelligence was associated to 538 genes.

The researchers found that some of these genes were also linked to other biological processes, which they said raises questions about the connection between intelligence and health. They also theorized that intelligence could be tested for through DNA one day. 


“This study adds to what we know about which genes influence intelligence, and suggests that health and intelligence are related in part because some of the same genes influence them,” study co-author and psychologist Ian Deary of The University of Edinburgh in Scotland, said in a statement.

But all is not lost if you don't believe yourself to be naturally smart. In 2011, a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicated that having a source of motivation, such as money, could boost IQ score. If only making money required being smart. 

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