[Paleopsych] Discover Mag: We Find Out Why Stupid People Usually Die Young
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Sat Jan 14 10:32:40 UTC 2006
We Find Out Why Stupid People Usually Die Young
DISCOVER Vol. 27 No. 01 | January 2006 | Mind & Brain
At Last: We Find Out Why Stupid People Usually Die Young
In 2001 researchers in Great Britain were surprised to discover that
people with low IQs live shorter lives. But a more startling finding came
this year with a report that reaction time proved an even stronger
predictor of life span than IQ.
Ian Deary, a psychologist at the University of Edinburgh, and Geoff Der, a
statistician at the MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow,
suspected that higher IQ might lead to healthier habits like not smoking
or healthier environments like safer office jobs. So they looked at data
on 898 people first tested at about age 56, and then tracked their
survival until age 70. They found that the link between IQ and mortality
held strong even after adjusting for education, occupation, social class,
But the group had also taken button-pressing reaction-time tests, which
measure how quickly and accurately a person repeatedly makes a simple
decision. Deary and Der wanted to find out whether there was still a
relationship between mental ability and survival once a person's reaction
time was taken into account. "And there wasn't," Deary says. The upshot:
"We could explain the association between mental ability and survival with
reaction time." In this study, the reaction times tested in subjects at
age 56 appeared to have about as strong a link to chances of survival over
the next 14 years as did being a smoker.
Why is still uncertain. One possibility is that reaction time slows
because an undetected disease has begun to compromise performance.
Another hypothesis is that the differences result from more fundamental,
lifelong variations in the speed at which people process information. Both
factors could be at work. For clues, Deary hopes to track a younger sample
over several years.
The study has sparked interest in what its authors call "cognitive
epidemiology," the study of associations between mental ability tests and
health outcomes. "One of the indicators of whether mental ability tests
are useful is whether they predict things about real life," Deary says,
and these findings suggest they do.
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