[Paleopsych] American Psychological Society: Think Fast: Reaction Time and IQ May Predict Long Life

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Mon Feb 7 20:31:11 UTC 2005

Think Fast: Reaction Time and IQ May Predict Long Life

[The report itself is at
http://www.psychologicalscience.org/pdf/ps/reaction_time.pdf .]

News Release, 5.2.2

    The ancient Greeks imagined three Fates - one spun the thread of life,
    the second measured its length, and the third snipped it off. Science
    has tried to provide more plausible (if less poetic) reasons for why
    some of us live longer than others. Now two researchers in Scotland
    have made a discovery even the Greeks couldn't have imagined: Reaction
    time may be a core indicator of long life.

    Ian Deary, University of Edinburgh, and Geoff Der, MRC Social and
    Public Health Sciences Unit, Glasgow, report on a study from the MRC
    Unit that measured both the IQs and the reaction times of middle-aged
    subjects. Both tests of mental ability were associated with life span,
    but reaction time was the stronger indicator.

    These findings, presented in the study "Reaction Time Explains IQ's
    Association with Death," will appear in the January 2005 issue of
    Psychological Science, a journal of the American Psychological

    The new research builds on earlier studies showing that people with
    lower IQs tend to die at younger ages than those with higher IQs.
    Deary and Der, however, wanted to use a more fundamental measure of
    mental ability - which they define as efficiency in processing
    information. They thought IQ tests might relate to physical health
    because people with higher IQs typically are more likely to be in
    occupations with safer environments. Reaction time is moderately
    related to IQ, but is a simpler assessment of the brain's
    information-processing ability - one that doesn't bear so much on
    other, possibly confounding factors like knowledge, education, or

    To test their theory they examined data from the MRC Unit that, back
    in 1988, had 412 male and 486 female 54- to 58-year-olds living in
    west Scotland. The participants took both an IQ test measuring their
    verbal and numeric cognitive abilities and a reaction-time test that
    measured how quickly they pressed a button after seeing a number on a
    screen. The researchers also recorded the participants' gender,
    employment, education, and smoking status. Over the next 14 years, 185
    participants died, and Deary and Der compared their test results to
    see if the IQ or reaction-time responses predicted their mortality.

    The researchers learned that those with higher IQ scores lived longer,
    a result consistent with other studies. The study also showed that
    characteristics significantly related to death included male gender
    and smoking. But Deary and Der also found something new - faster
    reaction times seemed an even better predictor of long life than IQ.

    There are different ways the results could be interpreted. Slow
    reaction times could reflect a degeneration of the brain, which in
    turn could reflect degenerating physical health (an obvious possible
    cause of earlier mortality). But in another study the IQs of
    11-year-old subjects also were found to predict life span length, just
    as accurately as it did for the middle-aged participants in Deary and
    Der's 14-year study.

    Future studies of reaction times in younger-aged people may shed more
    light on the IQ-mortality connection.

    Professor Deary said, "It is only in the last few years that we have
    come to realize that IQ-type scores are related to mortality, even
    when the mental tests were taken decades before death. Now, several
    research teams have replicated this finding. What we need to do now is
    understand it. We and others are following up several possible
    explanations for this intriguing new association between intelligence
    and survival."

    For more information, contact Deary at [13]i.deary at ed.ac. A full copy
    of the article is available at the APS Media Center at

    Psychological Science is ranked among the top 10 general psychology
    journals for impact by the Institute for Scientific Information. The
    American Psychological Society represents psychologists advocating
    science-based research in the public's interest.


   13. mailto:i.deary at ed.ac

More information about the paleopsych mailing list