In brain development, smart kids are slower.

Science, technology, and life.
March 30 2006 7:44 AM

Smart Kids Are Slower

Why your child's brain takes longer to develop.

(For the latest Human Nature columns on polygamy, Social Security, and morning-after pills, click here.)

The brains of smarter kids are slower to develop. The old theory posited that smarter people had bigger frontal lobes or more gray matter, probably due to genes. But a new analysis shows that at age 7, kids with higher IQs actually have thinner cortexes (the most sophisticated brain component) than their peers do. Cortexes thicken, then thin out in all children, but the higher your IQ, the later this happens. New theories: 1) Intelligence is determined by environment more than by genes. 2) No, it could still be genes, but they determine timing, not size. You don't get smart because your brain develops later; your brain develops later because you're already smart. "The most agile minds have the most agile cortex." 3) It's a combination: "Children might inherit certain genes that incline them to interact with their environment in very 'stimulating' ways," but parents and teachers could help stimulate the other kids. (For Human Nature's previous update on factors related to IQ, click here.)

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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An anesthetic can significantly reduce premature ejaculation. In a small study, the medicine, EMLA, outperformed the active ingredient in Viagra. Furthermore, Viagra caused headaches in some men, but EMLA didn't. EMLA is administered as a topical cream. Authors' take: This delivery system makes EMLA "easily applicable." Human Nature's take: You have a premature-ejaculation problem, and they tell you to spread cream on yourself? What kind of Einstein thought this up? (For Human Nature's previous updates on erectile dysfunction and penis enlargement, click here and here.)

Doctors removed two fetuses from a 2-month-old girl. The fetuses were originally triplets, but two of them grew inside the third and died there about halfway to term. The dead fetuses weighed two pounds. Such "fetus-in-fetu" cases occur twice in every million births. Political take: Pro-life gridlock! (For Human Nature's previous take on deformities and nature, click here and scroll to the bottom.)

Pregnancy triples your risk of a heart attack. The odds remain minuscule—six attacks per 100,000 pregnancies—but that's because women who get pregnant tend to be young. If you get pregnant over 40, your risk of a heart attack is 30 times that of a pregnant woman under 20. Researchers' conclusions: 1) "More and more women over the age of 35 are having children." 2) We should "be more aggressive in counseling women on the risks associated with pregnancy." Translation for women who postponed motherhood: If you liked the grief and nail-biting you went through to get pregnant, you'll love the next nine months. (For Human Nature's previous update on fetal hijacking of women's circulatory systems, click here.)

A two-headed toddler died just before her second birthday. The Egyptian girl was born with a parasitic twin head attached to her own, the result of incomplete twinning. The parasitic head "was capable of smiling and blinking but not independent life." The girl survived the head's surgical removal a year ago, plus five additional operations to resolve complications. A brain infection finally killed her. Tragic view: Why couldn't doctors save her? Grateful view: Are you kidding? Head-separation surgery had never been done in the Middle East before, and she's the first kid to survive such surgery anywhere, not to mention five more surgeries and a full additional year. Hats off to her doctors. (For Human Nature's previous takes on twinning and "aberrant products of fertilization," click here and here.)

Loneliness correlates with higher blood pressure in people aged 50 to 68. In a study, the 15 percent of participants who scored as "very lonely" in a questionnaire on lack of companionship had systolic blood pressure 10 to 30 points higher than participants who scored as not lonely, even when other factors were accounted for. Touchy-feely take: "Loneliness can be  as bad for the heart as being overweight or inactive." Drill-sergeant take: Get off your duff, lose weight, go out and meet people, and your blood pressure will come down along with your loneliness.

Scientists engineered pigs to grow meat that might be healthier for you. They put a gene from worms into pig cells, then used the cells to clone pigs that make omega-3 fatty acids. The good news, according to Reuters: Omega-3 fats "have been shown to improve cardiac function and reduce the risk of heart disease." The bad news, also via Reuters: "A review of 89 studies published online by the British Medical Journal showed no strong evidence that omega-3 fats reduced deaths from cardiovascular disease."

Old people are thwarting efforts to get them off the road. People 85 or older are more likely to kill somebody while driving than 16-year-olds are; drivers 65 or older are more likely than teens to have deadly multi-car collisions at intersections. The number of drivers aged 70 or older has doubled since 1985 and will have tripled by 2020. States are trying to scrutinize older drivers for fitness, but AARP chapters and other senior lobbies are fighting age-based rules. Seniors are also hiring lawyers and telling each other where to find lenient license-renewal offices. AARP official's argument: "You can't make a law based on a person's age." Rebuttal: Tell that to teenagers. (For Human Nature's critique of AARP-supported retirement benefits based on age, click here.)

Texas is busting people for "public intoxication" in bars. Undercover agents have "infiltrated" 36 bars and arrested 30 drinkers. Explanations from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission: 1) We're doing it to stop drinkers before they get in a car. 2) Even if they're not going to get in a car, maybe they'll "walk out into traffic and get run over." 3) Or maybe they'll "jump off of balconies trying to reach a swimming pool and miss." 4) Anyway, bars aren't exempt from laws against public intoxication.

The maker of Ambien is bracing for legal war with sleepwalkers, sleep-eaters, and sleep-drivers. Several Ambien users are suing Sanofi-Aventis, claiming that the pill caused them to walk, drive, or eat insatiably while sleeping. They're urging others to join a class-action suit. The company says: 1) the drug's label warns that rare side effects include sleepwalking and big appetites; 2) it's supposed to be taken under a doctor's supervision; and 3) it was carefully tested under the prescribed conditions. The company's lawyers will meet with plaintiffs in June. (For Human Nature's previous updates on sleep-eating and sleep-driving, click here and here.)

Latest Human Nature columns: 1) The difference between gay marriage and polygamy. 2) Stop giving healthy people Social Security. 3) South Dakota's invitation to snuff your embryo. 4) Technology and the end of Roe. 5) The nonsense of Olympic doping rules. 6) The temptation of remote-controlled killing. 7) Teachers who have sex withboys. 8) Our creepy genetic experiment on dogs. (Click here to return to top of page.)

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