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Effects of inbreeding on cognitive performance


THE few studies1,2 in which the effects of inbreeding on cognitive performance have been examined revealed that offspring of first-cousin marriages had lower IQ scores than offspring of unrelated parents. These studies were, however, performed in societies where the population engaging in such marriages is a small (1%, 6%)2,3 and unrepresentative proportion of the total population. Possible confounding of the effects of inbreeding with the effects of other intelligence-related variables such as socioeconomic status may lead the effects of inbreeding to be overestimated2. Unfortunately statistical control may either over- or under-correct for the correlates of the independent variables, leaving one in doubt about the true effect of inbreeding. I have now examined the effects of inbreeding on cognitive performance in an Arab population with a high rate of consanguinous marriage which minimised the distortions due to non-genetic variables. I show here that offspring of unrelated parents performed better than offspring of first-cousin marriages in intelligence and achievement tests administered at grades 4 and 6. The lowest level of performance and a higher variance were found for offspring of double-cousin marriages. The inbreeding depression found in this study is consistent and cannot be explained by the effects of socioeconomic status. I drew a nationally representative sample of 3,203 children in grades four and six (approximate ages 10 and 12 yr) of the Arab educational system in Israel. This sample constitutes about 10% of the total population in these grades and includes only normal (not retarded) children. Column 1 in Table 1 shows the division of the subjects according to grade level and consanguinity of the parents. A first-cousin marriage is between children of siblings. Children of first cousins have, on average, 1/16 pairs of genes by common descent. Double first cousins are children of siblings married to unrelated siblings. When they marry, their children have, on the average, 2/16 pairs of genes by common descent.

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BASHI, J. Effects of inbreeding on cognitive performance. Nature 266, 440–442 (1977).

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