Déjà vu all over again: A unitary biological mechanism for intelligence is (probably) untenable

L.D. Matzel, D.W. Crawford, B. Sauce

Research output: Contribution to JournalComment / Letter to the editorAcademic


© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.Nearly a century ago, Spearman proposed that “specific factors can be regarded as the ‘nuts and bolts’ of cognitive performance…, while the general factor is the mental energy available to power the specific engines”. Geary (2018; 2019) takes Spearman’s analogy of “mental energy” quite literally and doubles‐down on the notion by proposing that a unitary energy source, the mitochondria, explains variations in both cognitive function and health‐related outcomes. This idea is reminiscent of many earlier attempts to describe a low‐level biological determinant of general intelligence. While Geary does an admirable job developing an innovative theory with specific and testable predictions, this new theory suffers many of the shortcomings of previous attempts at similar goals. We argue that Geary’s theory is generally implausible, and does not map well onto known psychological and genetic properties of intelligence or its relationship to health and fitness. While Geary’s theory serves as an elegant model of “what could be”, it is less successful as a description of “what is”.
Original languageEnglish
Article number24
Pages (from-to)1-10
JournalJournal of Intelligence
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


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