Thursday, March 08, 2012

Africans and Low I.Q.s

"Wealth and the IQ of Nations" by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen insists that the average Sub-Saharan African’s IQ is 30-40 points lower than an East Asian’s IQ? How can that book give Hong Kong an IQ of 106 and Equatorial Guinea a mere 59? A rival study, led by Jelte M. Wicherts of The Netherlands, claimed a considerably higher average IQ for the Sub-Saharan region: 82. But even this lags far behind East Asia and the Western world. Why?

Obviously, Africans have been oppressed by colonialist imperialism, capitalist exploitation, and authoritarian regimes. One way oppression oppresses its victims is by stunting their cognitive abilities, diminishing their ability to be productive and politically engaged. Development economists and the public health community recognize this as an intrinsic part of the gloomy cycle of underdevelopment. Does oppression impact IQ scores? Yes. The Sub-Saharan human brain is severely maimed in gestation and early childhood, due to six post-conception horrors: disease, violence, malnutrition, pollution, poverty and illiteracy. In the Sub-Saharan, a mind-boggling 58% of the population is illiterate. Benin is the worst with 82.4% illiteracy; only 11.9% of its women can read and write. In Nigeria, nine nine million kids don’t go to school, instead they just roam the streets. Barely literate children are at an extreme disadvantage

Decent humans want to believe everyone remains equal in mental ability, no matter how disparate the environments. But it is anti-scientific and counter-productive to view our brains as impervious to outside harm.


The per capita income in Nigeria, for example, is a mere $191 annually. Numerous studies have indicated that growing up poor causes severe damages to one’s ability to achieve full cognitive potential. For example, wealthier parents can provide “better educational resources and spend more time with their children” notes Elliot Tucker Drob, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Another study, by Cornell University child-development researchers Gary Evans and Michelle Schamberg, determined that “chronically elevated physiological stress is a plausible model for how poverty could get into the brain and eventually interfere with achievement.” It noted that poor children tended to go to “ill-equipped and ill-taught schools, have fewer resources at home, eat low-nutrition food, and have less access to health care.” The result of the subpar environment was that “hormones produced in response to stress literally wear down the brains…” A specific test carried out with teenagers revealed that those in poverty had a weaker working memory than teens that were well-off. (Working memory is a reliable indicator reading. Language and problem-solving ability)


Numerous elements and molecular compounds are severely debilitating to human brain development. I’ve listed two dangers below; additional chemicals that cause harm in the Sub-Saharan are cadmium, manganese, petroleum hydrocarbons, mercury, and others. Water pollution and soil contamination are merit attention.

Lead Poisoning is pervasive throughout the Sub-Sahara. Leaded gasoline wasn’t phased out until 2005 with settling fumes caking the soil, and subsequently, the agricultural produce. Illegal mining operations in northern Nigeria recently used lead to refine gold ore, horrendously contaminating both the ground and the water. The NGO “Doctors Without Borders” discovered in 2010 that 90% of the children under 5 in the state of Zamfara, Nigeria (population 3.6 million) had lead poisoning. In Kabwe, Zambia, lead concentrates in children arealso 5-19 times the permissible USA EPA level. Researchers also recently discovered that “96% of the consumer paints available in Nigeria contained higher than the recommended levels of lead.” The effect of lead on IQ varies in research reports, but a 2001 study, from School of Public Health University at Albany Rensselaer (New York) estimated that lead exposure in children caused a “permanent loss of IQ of approximately 5 to 7 IQ points.”

Lagos - with its 12 million residents - has severe air pollution, largely caused by auto fumes and burning garbage. The Nigerian city does not have the worst air in the Sub-Saharan, however, that unfortunate honor goes to Gaberone, Botswana, which was voted 7th Worst in the World in a recent Time magazine survey. Research in Krakow, Poland and New York City claims that air pollution exposure before birth lowers IQ by 4 points, because smog harms the developing brain.


Two recent studies - a 2010 report from the University of New Mexico and 2011 research from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada - have strongly correlated low national IQs with high rates of infectious disease. Their findings mirror what Jared Diamond claimed in his 1997 bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies - i.e., endemic diseases thwart human advancement. The study’s lead author Christopher Eppig said that, “Based on our own research… a social policy aimed at elevating IQ would want to focus on reducing the infection rates and durations of the infections that are most costly to the brain, which we predict include malaria, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis, and intestinal worms.”

Every year there are 225 million cases of malaria worldwide, with 90% occurring in the Sub-Saharan region, where 3,000 die everyday of the disease. Nigeria alone accounts for 25% of the planet’s malaria cases, with 30 million of it’s citizens annually contracting the scourge, leaving 300,000 dead. The “brain insult” of malaria is horrendous. One international study defines cerebral malaria “as the presence of coma” leaving victims with neuro-physiological impairment to brain regions associated with planning, decision-making, self-awareness, and social sensitivity. Young Sub-Saharans are alarmingly vulnerable to drastic IQ reduction due to the malarial threat because, as University of New Mexico researchers state, “From an energetic standpoint, a developing human will have difficulty building a brain and fighting off infectious diseases at the same time, as both are very metabolically costly tasks.” It’s crucial to realize here that developing nations, like the entire Sub-Saharan, have a far higher rate of mental retardation. A 2008 Rush University Medical College (Chicago) report observed, “Surveys in high-income countries show 3 to 5 per 1,000 with severe intellectual disability… Estimates from developing countries, however, have found prevalence rates from 5 to as much as 22 per 1,000.” Malaria is listed by the researchers as one of the “major contributing causes” in Third World mental retardation.

The diarrhea rate in Nigeria is 18.8%, with 150,000 children dying annually of the disease. Diarrhea weakens the immune system and can quickly lead the sufferer to malnutrition, pneumonia, and a host of additional plagues. University of New Mexico researchers note that, “if exposed to diarrhoeal diseases during their first five years, individuals may experience lifelong detrimental effects to their brain development, and thus intelligence. Parasites may [also] negatively affect cognitive function in other ways, such as infecting the brain directly…”

Nigeria has the 4th highest TB rate in the world, with more than 400,000 cases per year. Tuberculosis - commonly associated with the lungs - has the potential to attack the brain, causing Tuberculosis Meningitis (TBM). Although this occurs in only 1% of TB cases in developed nations, reports indicate that TB leads to TBM in Nigeria between 7.8-14% of the time. The result? At least 20% of survivors are left with severe brain damage. Tuberculosis also creates a severe toll on the immune system, retarding the cognitive development of young children.

Nigerian schoolchildren are widely at risk of three intestinal parasites: roundworm, whipworm, and hookworm. One study revealed a 54.9% infection rate in urban public schools, 63.5% infection in rural public schools, and 28.4% in private schools. Intestinal worms have been associated with reduced IQ in many studies; one estimate is that “the average IQ loss for children left untreated is 3.75 points per worm infection.”

Prior to the recent focus on infectious disease hampering IQ levels, the prevalent opinion in scholastic circles was that malnutrition was the brain’s primarily oppressor. On the website nextbigfuture, author Brian Wang asserts that “if everyone had optimal levels of micronutrients the IQ of over half the world would be increased by up to 20 IQ points.” The Sub-Saharan would be a primary beneficiary of improved nutrition, especially infants, children, and pregnant women. Below I’ve listed only two dietary ingredients needed for optimal brain development; additional nutrients that also need to be considered are zinc, calcium, folic acid, Vitamin A, and magnesium.

If a pregnant mother’s diet is low in element #53, her child’s IQ can be severely hampered. Cretinism is the worst result of iodine deficiency, with its shocking retardation of physical and mental development. A recent report indicates that every year 900,000 Nigerian children will suffer an IQ loss because their mothers didn’t ingest enough iodine during their pregnancy. How large of an IQ loss? The website suggests “the loss of intellectual capacity by as much as 10 to 15 percentage points.”

An alarming 75.6% of Nigerian children are anemic, claims This lack punishes developing brains. “Various tests of cognitive skills associate lack of iron during infancy and early childhood with significant levels of disadvantage, affecting IQ scores by as much as 5 to 7 points,”

Recent research by Oxford University and Essex University asserts that infants breastfed for just four weeks are granted a 3-point IQ boost. Many specialists advice breastfeeding for at least six months, because the fatty acids in the mother’s milk aids infant brain development. Unfortunately, breastfeeding rates in the Sub-Saharan are among the lowest in the world. UNICEF calculates that only 31% of the region’s mothers breastfeed, a low figure compared to East and South Asia’s 43-44%. Breastfeeding is also more hygienic; bottle-feeding can infect newborns with diseases like diarrhea, especially in areas with contaminated water.

The Sub-Saharan has the highest prevalence in the world in sickle-cell disease, with up to 2% of all children born with the genetic blood disorder. A 2011 Emma Children’s Hospital study at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam discovered that children with sickle-cell disease were at-risk for lower intelligence and executive dysfunction, with possible deficits in visual-spatial working memory, attention, and planning. The impact was significant: “More than one in three children with SDC had a full-scale IQ below 75.”


Being subjected to violence, or witnessing violent activity, puts a traumatic burden on children that leads to cognitive decline. How steep is the subtraction? A 2002 study from the Children’s Hospital of Michigan concludes that “a child experiencing both violence exposure and trauma-related distress… would be expected to have a 7.5-point decrement in IQ and a 9.8 decrement in reading achievement.” The Sub-Saharan region is catastrophically violent in numerous categories.

Myriad bloodbaths have soaked the Sub-Saharan in the last thirty years, including recent and current conflicts in The Congo, Ivory Coast, and religious terrorism in Nigeria, plus past nightmares in Rwanda, Burundi, Biafra, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Liberia, Uganda, Central African Republic, and others. Is it accurate to define the entire region as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome? Perhaps. A recent survey of Liberians revealed that 71% of those questioned had witnessed a beating, 47% witnessed a killing, and 33% witnessed the killing of a family member. How does a pervasive atmosphere of violence affect children’s cognition? A Stanford Hospital study suggests that, “children’s risk for learning and behavior problems… rises in correlation to their level of trauma exposure…. children experiencing four types of trauma were 30 times more likely to have behavior and learning problems than those not exposed to trauma.”

A 2011 Harvard Medical report notes that “Witnessing domestic violence is a traumatic childhood experience associated with reduced IQ scores.” Unfortunately, wife beating is all-too-common in Sub-Saharan Africa. A recent Nigerian news report claims that, “More than 50 percent [of wives] say they have experienced domestic violence at the hands of their husbands.” Counter-intuitively,“more educated women (65%) are in this terrible situation as compared to their low income counterparts (55%).” Are the children watching? Another study says that 46% of Nigerian women reported being abused in the presence of their children.

Multiple studies assert that children subjected to sexual abuse suffer parallel damage to their brain development. For example, a Yale University study has linked childhood sexual abuse to “long-term deficits in verbal short-term memory” - a result that resembles the damage observed in “patients with combat-related PTSD.” Is child sexual abuse common in the Sub-Saharan? The Lancet reports reports that 33% of girls and women in Swaziland claimed they were victimized by sexual violence before reaching the age of 18. In Nigeria, rape is reportedly on the increase, particularly child rape. A 2008 news article from Kano, the commercial hub of northern Nigeria, claimed that, “The suspects are usually males between the ages of 45 and 70 while their victims are mostly girls of between three and 11 years.” The article notes that many rapes are never reported because “parents want to save the honor of their daughters and protect their families from embarrassment.”

Although Female Genital Mutilation is a “traditional ritual,” it needs to also be regarded as a violent, traumatic episode that can likely damage the cognitive development of the victims, generally girls aged 4-12. The World Health Organization (WHO) agrees, asserting that FGM has posed a “mental health risk” to 92 million African women. In the Sub-Saharan region, the following rates of FGM prevalence exist in the 15-49 age category, representing tens of millions of women and girls: Ivory Coast (36.4%), Gambia (78.3%), Guinea (95.6%), Liberia (58.2%), Nigeria (29.6%), Sierra Leone (94.0%), Guinea-Bissau (44.5%), and Senegal (28.2%).

Cousin marriage, known as “consanguinity,” is prevalent in many Sub-Saharan groups. In Nigeria it is practiced by the 18 million members of the Hausa tribe, preferentially in marrying patrilateral parallel cousins. The custom is also common among the Yoruba. Cousin marriage increases the risk of birth defects, due to sharing of the genes. The chance of birth defects in a first-time cousin marriage is about 1.7-2.0 times greater than average; if a culture repeats cousin marriage for generation, the odds of genetic mishap increase enormously. In 1993, an Aligarh Muslim University report from India study showed an IQ drop of 11.2 points (from 99.6 to 88.4) in the offspring of cousin marriages.

It isn't about "race" but environmental factors that damage the cognition of all human beings. The staggering loss of brain-power in the world is detrimental to all of us - how many "geniuses" that could contribute enormously to improving the planet are mentally-ruined at by age 5? It is appalling that children's minds are ruined by factors that can be prevented with improved social policies which regardless of all the well meaning intentions capitalism cannot or will not apply.

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