Using DNA to predict intelligence

Sophievon Stumma

a Department of Education, University of York, York, United Kingdom

Robert Plominb

b Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, United Kingdom


  • In 10 years, the ability to predict intelligence from DNA has gone from 0% to 10%;
  • Genome-wide polygenic scores (GPS) are transforming research on intelligence;
  • GPS will transport intelligence to many new areas of science;
  • The availability of GPS at birth, prenatally, and before conception will impact society;
  • We need to maximize benefits and minimize risks of DNA prediction of intelligence;

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The DNA revolution made it possible to use DNA to predict intelligence. We argue that this advance will transform intelligence research and society. Our paper has three objectives:

First, we review how the DNA revolution has transformed the ability to predict individual differences in intelligence. Thousands of DNA variants have been identified that – aggregated into genome-wide polygenic scores (GPS) – account for more than 10% of the variance in phenotypic intelligence. The intelligence GPS is now one of the most powerful predictors in the behavioral sciences.

Second, we consider the impact of GPS on intelligence research. The intelligence GPS can be added as a genetic predictor of intelligence to any study without the need to assess phenotypic intelligence. This feature will help export intelligence to many new areas of science. Also, the intelligence GPS will help to address complex questions in intelligence research, in particular how the gene-environment interplay affects the development of individual differences in intelligence.

Third, we consider the societal impact of the intelligence GPS, focusing on DNA testing at birth, DNA testing before birth (e.g., embryo selection), and DNA testing before conception (e.g., DNA dating). The intelligence GPS represents a major scientific advance, and, like all scientific advances, it can be used for bad as well as good. We stress the need to maximize the considerable benefits and minimize the risks of our new ability to use DNA to predict intelligence.



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