Fluctuating asymmetry and psychometric intelligence

F. Bryant Furlow, Tara Armijo–Prewitt, Steven W. Gangestad, Randy Thornhill


Little is known about the genetic nature of human psychometric intelligence (IQ), but it is widely assumed that IQ's heritability is at loci for intelligence per se. We present evidence consistent with a hypothesis that interindividual IQ differences are partly due to heritable vulnerabilities to environmental sources of developmental stress, an indirect genetic mechanism for the heritability of IQ. Using fluctuating asymmetry (FA) of the body (the asymmetry resulting from errors in the development of normally symmetrical bilateral traits under stressful conditions), we estimated the relative developmental instability of 112 undergraduates and administered to them Cattell's culture fair intelligence test (CFIT). A subsequent replication on 128 students was performed. In both samples, FA correlated negatively and significantly with CFIT scores. We propose two non–mutually exclusive physiological explanations for this correlation. First, external body FA may correlate negatively with the developmental integrity of the brain. Second, individual energy budget allocations and/or low metabolic efficiency in high–FA individuals may lower IQ scores. We review the data on IQ in light of our findings and conclude that improving developmental environmental quality may increase average IQ in future generations.

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