Gene for intelligence identified

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Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. was Director of Mental Help Net from 1999 to 2011. Dr. Dombeck received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology in 1995 ...Read More

People may be equal under the law, but in reality, as we all know, some people are more gifted than others. Exactly why this is so is a matter of long standing debate which goes back hundreds and probably thousands of years. "Naturism" taken to an extreme would argue that people gain their gifts due to inborn inherited dispositions (which we today identify as genes). The converse position, "Nurturism", holds that people are born as "blank slates" (that phrase belongs to philosopher John Locke) and differences they develop between one anohter are due mostly to environmental differences they experience (e.g., maternal affection, resource availability, etc.). The modern position holds pretty much to the middle of this debate: Certainly important human qualities are inherited, but how completely those qualities are expressed is very influenced by environmental exposures. Intelligence is thought to be partially a product of genetics, for example, but how a given person’s intelligence will evolve and develop is more or less at the mercy of the quality of the environment each person experiences. Importantly, the genetic basis for something like inteligence is only strongly suspected (based on years of study looking at children and parents), it is not definitively established. To my knowledge, no one has ever pointed to an intelligence gene and said, "that little sucker is the one responsible". Until recently, that is. Researchers from various New York and Massachusetts institutions are now reporting that they have identified an actual gene that appears to be associated with intelligence. The gene appears on chromosome 6p and codes for dysbindin-1, a protein complex, deficits of which have previously been associated with schizophrenia. The association between dysbindin-1 and intelligence has been established based on two separate studies, one of schizophrenic and schizoaffective patients, and one of normal healthy folks. The abstract is available online, but you’ve got to pay if you want to read the actual study (bummer!). This sort of study is really interesting as it helps us fill in the blanks of what we know, but it is perhaps even more valuable in that it opens up all sorts of new questions to ask, such as "what exactly is the genetic relationship between proneness to schizophrenia and variation in intelligence". It can’t be a simple relationship, as schizophrenia patients vary in terms of their intelligence very widely, just like the rest of us. I’ve known some wicked-smart schizophrenics in my day. As per usual, we’ll need to stay tuned to research channels for the answers.

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