Evolutionary Psychological Science

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 272–284 | Cite as

What Caused over a Century of Decline in General Intelligence? Testing Predictions from the Genetic Selection and Neurotoxin Hypotheses

  • Michael A. Woodley of MenieEmail author
  • Matthew A. Sarraf
  • Mateo Peñaherrera-Aguirre
  • Heitor B. F. Fernandes
  • David Becker
Research Article


Several converging lines of evidence indicate that general intelligence (g) has declined in Western populations. The causes of these declines are debated. Here, two hypotheses are tested: (1) selection acting against genetic variants that promote g causes the decline and (2) the presence of neurotoxic pollution in the environment causes the decline. A linear mixed model was devised to test (1) and (2), in which the secular decline in a “heritable g” (g.h) chronometric factor (comprised of convergent indicators of simple reaction time, working memory, utilization frequencies of high difficulty and also social-intelligence-indicating vocabulary items and per capita macro-innovation rates) was predicted using a neurotoxin chronometric factor (comprised of convergent secular trends among measures of lead, mercury and dioxin + furan pollution, in addition to alcohol consumption) and a polygenic score chronometric factor (comprised of polygenic score means for genetic variants predictive of g, sourced from US and Icelandic age-stratified cohorts). Bivariate correlations revealed that (other than time) only the polygenic score factor was significantly associated with declining g.h (r = .393, p < .05 vs. .033, ns for the neurotoxin factor). Using a hierarchical linear mixed model approach incorporating 25 year lags between the predictors and g.h, time period, operationalized categorically as fifths of a century, accounted for the majority of the variance in the decline in g.h (partial η2 = .584, p < .05). Net of time period and neurotoxins, changing levels of polygenic scores also significantly predicted variance in the decline in g.h (partial η2 = .253, p < .05); however, changing levels of neurotoxins did not significantly predict variance in g.h net of time (partial η2 = .027 ns). Within-period analysis indicates that the independent significant positive effect of the polygenic score factor on g.h was restricted to the third fifth of a century period (β = .202, p < .05).


Directional selection Dysgenics General intelligence Neurotoxins Polygenic scores 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael A. Woodley of Menie
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Matthew A. Sarraf
    • 3
  • Mateo Peñaherrera-Aguirre
    • 4
  • Heitor B. F. Fernandes
    • 4
  • David Becker
    • 5
  1. 1.Center Leo Apostel for Interdisciplinary StudiesVrije Universiteit BrusselBrusselsBelgium
  2. 2.Unz FoundationPalo AltoUSA
  3. 3.University of RochesterRochesterUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  5. 5.Department of PsychologyTechnische Universität ChemnitzChemnitzGermany

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