To What Extent Is Human Intelligence Defined By DNA?

Illustration by Kevin Flores.

Most of us experience moments after an exam or other important assignments when we wish we were as smart as a friend who earned a perfect score.

Although rare, there are also instances when we see or hear of someone who excels academically with minimum amounts of study or preparation.

While a disciplined lifestyle and immaculate study habits (not including cramming) serve as the two focal points for consistent academic excellence, recent studies prove that intelligence may not just be learned. Research continually shows that intelligence is a highly personal trait that varies from person to person, culture to culture, and generation to generation.

Scottish psychologist Ian Deary, director of the Center for Cognitive Aging and Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, focuses his research on the mental abilities of human beings.

Through his research, Deary has discovered that genetic factors control about 50 percent of a person’s intelligence—whether it be academic intelligence, measures of how quickly one can understand concepts, or how easily one can “figure out” what to do in real life situations.

Regardless, obtaining intelligence from DNA is not as simple as inheriting one or two genes and immediately becoming the next Albert Einstein.

According to research conducted at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, a gene found in chromosome seven called CHRM2 controls a significant part of performance Intelligence Quotient (IQ).

With all these breakthrough discoveries and such specific data, some scientists are beginning to wonder the ethicalities of testing human intelligence. Issues rise on the boundaries of science. Are researchers touching topics they should not? Is the science community simply diving too deep into Pandora’s box?

Science is “going too far” is a completely irrelevant topic as the foundation of science is curiosity—science is based on questions and multitudes of ways to answer said questions. Discoveries are inevitable and students, professors, researchers, and entire institutions have dedicated years to answer questions in the name of science.

So, to say that this is a topic the medical and psychological fields should not delve too much into is nonsense. Vast knowledge of mental abilities can make the diagnosis of learning disabilities much more efficient and even cure countless learning disabilities. Nevertheless, this brings up the issue of parents testing unborn babies for learning disabilities or below average IQ’s as causes for termination.

The idea that intelligence is partly hereditary also challenges standardized testing. The fact that some students are simply naturally gifted and more academically well-off than their peers sets an uneven ground that standardized tests are set in place to counteract.

Despite all of this, one’s success is in no way measured by IQ level. Just because some people are smarter than others only because of different genes does not mean that a student’s hard work and dedication are useless. At the end of the day, perseverance and grit are what truly set great students apart from their peers.