Being smart isn’t always successful in the evolutionary race. Swiss researchers wondered why, if intelligence is such an asset, we haven’t evolved to the point where everyone is super smart. Since this hasn’t happened, there must be some good reasons to be dumb. Scottish researchers have discovered that it pays to be smart if you’re poor, but if you’re rich, it doesn’t make any difference.

Debora MacKenzie writes in New Scientist that when Frederic Mery compared smart fruit flies with dumb ones, the unintelligent flies did better. “This shows that just having a better ability to learn involves a cost, even when you aren’t using it,” Mery says.

First, he bred a group of fast-learning flies by allowing fruit flies to lay eggs on gels flavored with fruit juice. However, some flavors were spiked with bitter quinine, and the flies that learned to recognize these first were then bred for 20 generations, to create a group of super smart fruit flies.

These “superflies” could recognize the bitter taste after one try, while it took the slower flies 3 to 5 tries before they caught on, and they also forgot what they’d learned faster. “That shows we selected a gene that improves both memory and the speed of learning, or two genes that are tightly linked,” says Mery.

But when the just-hatched larvae of the intelligent flies competed with ordinary larvae for food, fewer of them survived. “They are slower at feeding,” says Mery. He thinks this is because the superflies have to spend more of their energy on developing their brains, so they don’t have enough left for ordinary tasks. He says, “?This should open up the evolutionary question.”

Aaron Levin writes for the Health Behavior News Service that Scottish researchers who followed 1,000 people for 70 years found that people with high IQs in poor neighborhoods lived longer than those with low IQs who lived in the same area, but intelligence made no difference in how long people lived in wealthy neighborhoods.

“The significant interaction found between IQ and deprivation suggests that IQ in childhood is less important in terms of mortality for people who live in more affluent areas in adulthood than for people who live in deprived areas,” says Carole L. Hart. She thinks the poor people with high IQs lived longer because they were smart enough to learn how to stay healthy or cope with tough situations.

“It is possible that low childhood IQ leads to adult deprivation, which in turn leads to earlier death,” Hart says. But it’s also true that low birth weight and a harsh living situation, which are both linked to poverty, lead to a lower IQ, as well as poorer health. In other words, poverty causes people’s basic intelligence to be lower than would be otherwise.

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