What is Intelligence?

Table of Contents

Is Intelligence Genetic?

Date of Content: September 16, 2023
Written by: Jess Gayo
Reviewed by: Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD



Is Intelligence a Purely Human Trait?

The capacity to learn from experience, adapt to novel circumstances, comprehend and manage abstract concepts, and apply information to influence one’s surroundings are all components of human intelligence. The pursuit of defining intelligence stirs up a lot of discourse among intelligence researchers. In their definitions of intelligence, several researchers have placed differing emphasis on various components. 


So are humans the only intelligent beings on the planet? In actuality, intelligence is a complex term that is challenging to describe and tough to separate from our abilities. Even more challenging is determining intelligence. Humans can have verbal exchanges or administer written exams to others when trying to assess intelligence. However, it is particularly challenging to gauge animal intelligence because they lack language and have opposable thumbs.


Even though it can be challenging to define intelligence in animals and assess their cognitive abilities, research has accumulated a wealth of data demonstrating that animals of many different species possess sophisticated intelligence.

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Is intelligence genetic

What is Intelligence?

American psychologists Lewis Terman and Edward L. Thorndike disagreed over the notion of intelligence in a 1921 symposium, with Terman placing more emphasis on the capacity for abstract thought and Thorndike placing more emphasis on learning and the ability to provide insightful answers. 

When defining intelligence, it’s essential to emphasize that it’s not just a mental function. Instead, it’s a purposeful blend of various activities aimed at achieving successful adaptation. More recently, psychologists have come to the conclusion that the key to understanding both what intelligence is and what it accomplishes, is to see it as adaptation to the environment. The majority of the time, adaptation is altering oneself to better cope with the environment, but it can also entail altering the environment or finding a whole new one.

Intelligence is a multifaceted concept that encompasses our ability to understand, learn, reason, and adapt to our environment. It’s not just about being book-smart; it’s about using our minds effectively to tackle life’s challenges. There isn’t a single universally accepted definition of intelligence, but researchers have explored different aspects of it.

An influential perspective comes from psychologist Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. He suggests that intelligence isn’t a single entity but a combination of various abilities, such as linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligence. This view highlights the diversity of human intelligence and how people can excel in different ways.

Another well-known theory is emotional intelligence (EQ), developed by Daniel Goleman. It emphasizes the importance of understanding and managing emotions, both in oneself and in others, as a key component of intelligence.

Nature vs. Nurture: Is Intelligence Genetic or Environmental?

In the fields of psychology and genetics, the argument over whether intelligence is largely impacted by heredity or the environment has a long history and is complicated. Understanding the relative contributions of genetic (nature) and environmental (nurture) elements in determining a person’s intellect is the goal of the nature versus nurture debate.


According to some research, intelligence is significantly influenced by both genetics and environment. Since identical twins tend to have more similar IQ scores than fraternal twins, studies involving twins and adoption have demonstrated that intelligence definitely has a genetic component. Environmental variables, however, also have a significant impact, as children who grow up in an stimulating and encouraging setting typically score higher on the IQ scale than those who grow up in underprivileged or neglectful circumstances.


The ongoing research into the interplay between genetics and the environment in shaping intelligence underscores the complexity of this topic and highlights the need for a holistic understanding that considers both factors.

Genetic Markers

The human genome contains regions that have been linked to variances in cognitive ability; these regions are known as the genetic markers of intelligence. Although tremendous progress has been made in finding genes associated with intelligence, it is important to remember that intelligence is a complex trait impacted by various genes and environmental factors.


Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms or SNPs are differences in a single nucleotide, the basic unit of DNA. Some SNPs have been linked to characteristics relevant to IQ. A very large study that discovered a number of SNPs that are connected to cognitive ability, can give some insight into the genetic foundation of intelligence. Some SNPs that were found to be primarily linked to verbal-numeric reasoning aspect of human intelligence include SNPs rs34811474 (ANAPC4), rs2454206 (TET2), rs2305050 (MAP9), rs12554512, rs12043581, rs4344368, rs11586170 (LINC02607), rs3795243 (NCAPG), rs13107325 (SLC39A8), rs1487445, rs9384679, rs13270757 (SGCZ)], rs4129585 (TSNARE1), rs7498665 (SH2B1), and rs2486012 (ST3GAL3).


Other genes and proteins associated with Cognitive Function:


The COMT gene encodes an enzyme that regulates the availability of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with cognitive functions. Variations in the COMT gene have been linked to differences in cognitive performance, particularly in tasks requiring working memory and executive function.


Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) 

BDNF plays a crucial role in brain development and synaptic plasticity. Variants of the BDNF gene have been associated with variations in memory and learning abilities.


CHRM2 Gene 

The CHRM2 gene encodes a receptor for acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory. Specific variants of this gene have been linked to cognitive performance, with some studies suggesting a role in memory processes.



While primarily associated with Alzheimer’s disease risk, the APOE gene has also been studied in the context of cognitive function. The APOE ε4 variant is associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s but may also have subtle effects on cognitive abilities in non-disease contexts.


It’s important to emphasize that intelligence is influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and no single gene can determine a person’s intelligence. Additionally, the genetic markers mentioned above have relatively small effects individually and are just one piece of the larger intelligence puzzle.

Non-Genetic Factors

Fluid intelligence, sometimes referred to as abstract reasoning, is influenced by a variety of environmental factors in addition to hereditary ones, all of which are vital for cognitive development and intellectual ability. Throughout a person’s life, these non-genetic or environmental influences influence intelligence. 

Parental Engagement and the Early Childhood Environment

Development of the brain is significantly influenced by the environment in which a child is reared, especially in the early years. Intellectual development can be encouraged by having access to early schooling, having a dynamic family environment, and having social contact possibilities. A child’s cognitive development benefits from a caring and stimulating home environment with involved parents. At-home interactions, reading, and intellectual pursuits can increase intelligence.

Dietary Intake and Physical Activity

For the development of the brain, adequate nutrition is essential, especially during infancy and youth. Intellectual impairments can be caused by malnutrition or dietary deficits, which can impede cognitive growth. Additionally, regular exercise has been associated with increased intelligence and cognitive performance. Exercise helps the brain stay healthy and can improve memory and learning.

Socioeconomic Status (SES) and Educational Opportunities

The caliber of education and availability of educational resources are significant determinants of intelligence. Cognitive abilities can be improved by attending top-notch schools, working with qualified teachers, and having access to books and technology. SES is a potent indicator of cognitive growth as well. Children with higher SES levels typically have access to better healthcare, educational opportunities, and resources, which can result in smarter kids.

Adversity and Stress

Negative childhood experiences and high levels of chronic stress might have a negative impact on cognitive development. Lower IQ scores can result from several environmental factors impairing cognitive performance.

Peer Influence and Technology Access

Social experiences and peer interactions can influence cognitive development. Intellectual development can be facilitated by supportive peer interactions and social learning opportunities. Everyone now communicates through technology. The inequality in access to technology and the internet, known as the “digital divide,” may have an impact on cognitive development. Having access to digital materials may also improve one’s capacity for learning and problem-solving.

Cultural Aspects

Cognitive development and the kinds of abilities prioritized within a particular culture can be influenced by cultural values, practices, and expectations. These cultural elements can influence how the intellect is expressed.

Research is still being done to better understand how genetics and environment interact to shape human intelligence. The influence of genetics and environment on intelligence is linked, and these environmental elements frequently interact with genetic influences. Additionally, depending on unique circumstances, the effects of these environmental elements can differ from person to person.

What are the Types of Intelligence?

To categorize and define the many types of intelligence, numerous hypotheses and models have been put forth over the years. These models propose that intelligence is more complex than a single, all-encompassing idea and can be divided into a variety of diverse sorts or domains. 


General Intelligence

General intelligence, often referred to as “g,” is a concept proposed by psychologist Charles Spearman. It represents a person’s overall cognitive ability and is thought to underlie all intellectual tasks. It reflects the idea that individuals who excel in one cognitive domain tend to perform well in others.


Multiple Intelligences Theory

Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences proposes that there are several distinct types of intelligence, each representing a different way of processing information. Gardner initially identified seven types:


  1. Linguistic Intelligence: The ability to understand and use language effectively.
  2. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: Proficiency in logical reasoning, problem-solving, and mathematical operations.
  3. Spatial Intelligence: The capacity to perceive, manipulate, and navigate spatial relationships.
  4. Musical Intelligence: Skill in understanding and creating music.
  5. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence: Expertise in physical activities and body movement.
  6. Interpersonal Intelligence: The ability to understand and interact effectively with others.
  7. Intrapersonal Intelligence: Self-awareness and self-understanding, including emotional intelligence.
  8. Naturalist intelligence: The ability to recognize and categorize plants, animals, and other objects in nature.
  9. Existential intelligence: The sensitivity and capacity to tackle deep questions about human existence such as, “What is the meaning of life? Why do we die? How did we get here?”


Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

The term “emotional intelligence” refers to the capacity to identify, comprehend, control, and employ emotions in interpersonal interactions and problem-solving. Daniel Goleman popularized it in his book Emotional Intelligence.


Practical Intelligence

Practical intelligence, also referred to as “street smarts,” is the capacity to adjust to and flourish in everyday circumstances. It requires abilities connected to logical thinking, problem-solving, and adjusting to different situations in life.



While not always categorized as a separate type of intelligence, creativity is a distinct cognitive ability. It involves the generation of novel and valuable ideas, solutions, and artistic expressions.


Social Intelligence

The ability to comprehend and successfully navigate social interactions is referred to as social intelligence. It entails efficient communication, empathy, and the capacity to read social cues.


Cultural Intelligence (CQ)

Cultural intelligence involves the capability to work effectively across diverse cultural contexts. It includes an understanding of different cultural norms, values, and communication styles.


It’s crucial to remember that various sorts of intelligence are not mutually exclusive and that people can have different amounts of each. Furthermore, as new angles and views are being explored through continuing study, the idea of intelligence is still changing.

Why is Improving Intelligence Important?

Enhancing intellect is crucial for both individual and society’s well-being. There are strong reasons to work toward improving intelligence, despite the fact that it is a complicated attribute influenced by various circumstances.


Personal Development

People with higher intelligence have a greater capacity for processing information, comprehension, and problem-solving. As people become more capable of overcoming obstacles with greater ease and adaptability, their lives become richer and more rewarding.


Educational Achievement

Better academic success can result from increased intelligence. Strong cognitive abilities help students succeed academically, pick up new skills more quickly, and understand difficult ideas, which opens up a variety of educational and employment prospects.


Career Development

Success in the workplace is greatly influenced by intelligence. Employers place a great value on increased productivity, wise decision-making, and problem-solving capabilities, all of which can be achieved through improved cognitive capacities. Higher IQ scores are frequently associated with improved opportunities for career growth and higher earning potential.


Creativity and Innovation

Innovation and creativity are fostered by intelligence. Strong cognitive thinkers are more likely to come up with original ideas, devise creative solutions to issues, and progress in a variety of disciplines, including science, technology, and the arts.


Improved Problem-Solving and Decision-Making

Having more intelligence makes it easier to solve problems. This is essential for dealing with personal problems as well as intricate societal and international problems including social inequity, healthcare, and climate change. Better decision-making is also a result of higher cognitive capacity. People with higher IQs are better able to analyze options, foresee outcomes, and make decisions that are both good for them and for others.


Social Contributions and Global Competence 

People with higher intelligence frequently play important roles in the advancement of society. They contribute to the growth of knowledge in the fields of science, technology, education, and the formulation of laws that enhance the standard of living in societies. High intellect is necessary for global competency in a world that is becoming more linked. 


Individual Contentment and Adaptive Resilience 

A sense of personal fulfillment and self-fulfillment can result from ongoing intellectual development and self-improvement. It encourages a never-ending love of learning and self-discovery. 


Better intellect gives people the capacity to adjust to shifting conditions and triumph over hardship. People who have improved cognitive flexibility and critical thinking are better able to deal with the problems of life, which lowers stress and increases mental resilience.


While it’s necessary to pursue intelligence enhancement, it’s also crucial to recognize that intelligence comes in a variety of ways and that every person has different capabilities and room for growth. 

Ways to Improve Intelligence

Intelligence is a complex trait influenced by both genetics and environmental factors. While it is important to note that certain factors, such as genetics, play a significant role in determining a person’s cognitive abilities, there are ways to enhance and maximize one’s intellectual potential. 


Lifelong Education and Mental Exercise

Your cognitive talents can be improved by making studying a habit. Take part in mental-challenging activities, such as reading, taking courses, learning a new language, or picking up new talents. By completing puzzles, taking part in strategic games, or performing brain-training exercises, you may keep your brain engaged. These exercises help improve your memory, flexibility, and problem-solving abilities.


Exercise, Sleep, and a Healthy Diet 

Improved cognitive performance has been related to regular physical activity. Exercise improves the overall health of the brain by boosting blood flow to the brain and encouraging the development of new neurons. 


Your diet is crucial for brain function. A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and other nutrients can help to sustain cognitive health. Brain-boosting foods include salmon, berries, almonds, and leafy greens. For the brain to function properly and to consolidate memories, quality sleep and rest are essential. For best brain function, aim for 7 to 9 hours of unbroken sleep each night.


Social Interaction, Exposure, and Travel

Your intellect can be stimulated by taking part in significant social interactions and conversations. Your knowledge and capacity for critical thought can grow as a result of sharing viewpoints and ideas with others. Your horizons can be expanded, your cultural intelligence can be raised, and your adaptability can be improved by being exposed to many cultures and surroundings.


Reduced Stress and Tension

Cognitive function may be negatively impacted by ongoing stress. Utilize stress-reduction strategies like yoga, mindfulness, or deep breathing exercises to control your stress levels.


There are no quick fixes when it comes to increasing intelligence; it takes time. Patience, perseverance, and a desire for lifelong learning are necessary for personal development and cognitive improvement. Utilizing these techniques in your day-to-day activities will help you maximize your cognitive abilities and continuously improve your intellect.

LifeDNA’s Genetic Personality and Cognition Traits

Intelligence may not be inherently a human trait but it is measured and observed by human means. LifeDNA’s Personality and Cognition Report gives insight into several traits that can help you understand and increase your cognitive functions . LifeDNA’s Personality and  Cognition report covers an analysis of Abstract Reasoning (Fluid Intelligence) (aka Logical-Mathematical Intelligence)  and 35 other personal and cognition-related traits. Get yours here.


  • Intelligence, a complex trait, includes our capacity for comprehension, learning, reasoning, and environmental adaptation.
  • Language, logical-mathematical, geographical, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligence are only a few of the many skills that make up intelligence. 
  • According to studies, both genetics and environment have a big impact on intelligence. The nature vs. nurture argument aims to understand the relative contributions of genetic (nature) and environmental (nurture) factors in influencing a person’s intelligence.
  • The complex attribute of intelligence is influenced by a number of genes and environmental variables.
  • Genetic variables regularly interact with environmental circumstances. The influence of these environmental elements can also vary from person to person depending on specific circumstances.
  • The improvement of intelligence is essential for the welfare of both individuals and society.
  • Although a person’s cognitive talents are largely determined by genetic and environmental variables, there are techniques to improve and optimize one’s intellectual potential. 

*Understanding your genetics can offer valuable insights into your well-being, but it is not deterministic. Your traits can be influenced by the complex interplay involving nature, lifestyle, family history, and others.

Our reports and suggestions do not diagnose or treat any health conditions or provide any medical advice. Consult with a healthcare professional before making any major lifestyle changes or if you have any other concerns about your results.


*Understanding your genetics can offer valuable insights into your well-being, but it is not deterministic. Your traits can be influenced by the complex interplay involving nature, lifestyle, family history, and others.

Our reports have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The contents on our website and our reports are for informational purposes only, and are not intended to diagnose any medical condition, replace the advice of a healthcare professional, or provide any medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult with a healthcare professional before making any major lifestyle changes or if you have any other concerns about your results. The testimonials featured may have used more than one LifeDNA or LifeDNA vendors’ product or reports.