The impact of environmental interventions among mouse siblings on the heritability and malleability of general cognitive ability

B. Sauce, S. Bendrath, M. Herzfeld, D. Siegel, C. Style, S. Rab, J. Korabelnikov, L.D. Matzel

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


© 2018 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.General cognitive ability can be highly heritable in some species, but at the same time, is very malleable. This apparent paradox could potentially be explained by gene-environment interactions and correlations that remain hidden due to experimental limitations on human research and blind spots in animal research. Here, we shed light on this issue by combining the design of a sibling study with an environmental intervention administered to laboratory mice. The analysis included 58 litters of four full-sibling genetically heterogeneous CD-1 male mice, for a total of 232 mice. We separated the mice into two subsets of siblings: a control group (maintained in standard laboratory conditions) and an environmental-enrichment group (which had access to continuous physical exercise and daily exposure to novel environments). We found that general cognitive ability in mice has substantial heritability (24% for all mice) and is also malleable. The mice that experienced the enriched environment had a mean intelligence score that was 0.44 standard deviations higher than their siblings in the control group (equivalent to gains of 6.6 IQ points in humans). We also found that the estimate of heritability changed between groups (55% in the control group compared with non-significant 15% in the enrichment group), analogous to findings in humans across socio-economic status. Unexpectedly, no evidence of gene-environment interaction was detected, and so the change in heritability might be best explained by higher environmental variance in the enrichment group. Our findings, as well as the ‘sibling intervention procedure’ for mice, may be valuable to future research on the heritability, mechanisms and evolution of cognition. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Causes and consequences of individual differences in cognitive abilities’.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20170289
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1756
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sept 2018
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'The impact of environmental interventions among mouse siblings on the heritability and malleability of general cognitive ability'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this