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The heritability of IQ

Abstract

IQ heritability, the portion of a population's IQ variability attributable to the effects of genes1, has been investigated for nearly a century, yet it remains controversial. Covariance between relatives may be due not only to genes, but also to shared environments, and most previous models have assumed different degrees of similarity induced by environments specific to twins, to non-twin siblings (henceforth siblings), and to parents and offspring. We now evaluate an alternative model that replaces these three environments by two maternal womb environments, one for twins and another for siblings, along with a common home environment. Meta-analysis of 212 previous studies shows that our ‘maternal-effects’ model fits the data better than the ‘family-environments’ model. Maternal effects, often assumed to be negligible, account for 20% of covariance between twins and 5% between siblings, and the effects of genes are correspondingly reduced, with two measures of heritability being less than 50%. The shared maternal environment may explain the striking correlation between the IQs of twins, especially those of adult twins that were reared apart. IQ heritability increases during early childhood, but whether it stabilizes thereafter remains unclear. A recent study of octogenarians2, for instance, suggests that IQ heritability either remains constant through adolescence and adulthood3, or continues to increase with age2. Although the latter hypothesis has recently been endorsed4, it gathers only modest statistical support in our analysis when compared to the maternal-effects hypothesis. Our analysis suggests that it will be important to understand the basis for these maternal effects if ways in which IQ might be increased are to be identified.

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Acknowledgements

We thank T. J. Bouchard Jr for compilations of IQ data, and J. C. Loehlin, M. McGue, S.Fienberg and R. Kass for comments on a previous draft of the manuscript. This work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

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Correspondence to B. Devlin.

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Figure 1: Figure 1 IQ correlations for certain study designs (see Table 1for types) plotted versus sample size.

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