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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 24th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Do smart people live longer?

1 December 2017

If you have an above-average IQ then you're more likely to have an above-average lifespan.

Well that's what's hinted at by findings published this week.

According to this ScienceDaily story, researchers have found a link between cognitive ability and longevity, at a DNA level.

That the link has been found at a DNA level is significant because it sidesteps the obvious possibility that smart people live longer simply because they make better life decisions in respect to diet, exercise etc., and that perhaps they also have higher incomes and thus better access to medical treatment in old-age.

Perhaps this helps explain why some very bright people, who should be long-dead, are still alive.

Take Dr Stephen Hawking for example.

Hawking suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease and was first diagnosed with the condition when he was 21.

The vast majority of those who suffer from this condition die within five years of their diagnosis -- but Hawking is now 75 and has lived with the fatal condition for over 54 years. Is this because of his intelligence and the effect that the same "smart" genes have on one's longevity?

Does this link mean that most of Aardvark's readers will (accidents notwithstanding), be likely to outlive those who are addicted to The Bachelor?

Einstein, like Hawking, reportedly had an IQ of 160 and died back in 1995 at the age of 76, ten years beyond the average male life expectancy of 66 at the time.

So is there something in this research?

Is there some kind of evolutionary value to having longevity and intelligence linked via our genetic structure?

Perhaps so...

If you think about it, early on in our evolution, intelligence was an evolutionary advantage. If you were smart you were more likely to survive long enough to reproduce -- hence the average intelligence of the human race increased as it evolved.

Those who were less smart were less likely to reach sexual maturity before dying from the things that more intelligent individuals were able to avoid.

Although, as a race, our average intelligence is no longer increasing due to evolution (in fact it's likely to be decreasing because low-IQ folk probably outbreed higher-IQ ones), the link between IQ and longevity seems to remain.

I actually wonder if we've hit our evolutionary peak.

Have we now started to devolve?

Thanks to our intelligence, we've come up with all sorts of treatments for genetic disorders and weaknesses that would previously have taken affected individuals out of the gene pool long before they were able to reproduce. These days, those people go on to have children and pass on the genes that are responsible for their health issues -- effectively weakening the entire race.

I'm not arguing in favour of eugenics but I do think that the fact we have effectively withdrawn from the evolutionary process is something we need to consider when looking to the future.

Will humankind be a weaker, stupider, less capable species in another 5,000 years?

Or are we simply unlikely to last that long anyway (climate change, assured mutual destruction, pandemic, invasion from outer space, gamma burst, asteroid strike or whatever)?

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