Are taller people more clever?

Young boy measuring heightTaller people often do better in cognitive tests, leading scientists to believe the same genes determine both height and brain function.

But when comparing BSC70 to other generations, researchers found something surprising: the connection between height and cognition is getting weaker. This wouldn’t happen if these traits were purely genetic. Instead, it seems changes in society and the environment might also be having an effect.

What we asked you

When you were age 10, trained nurses visited you and your family to measure your height. At 16 some of you were measured again and others self-reported your height to us. During the same surveys, we also asked you to do a series of exercises to measure your literacy and numeracy skills.

Researchers compared your data to information from three other British cohort studies, born in 1946, 1958 and 2000-1.

What the research found

Researchers from UCL and King’s College London found that height and cognition were less closely related in your generation, and those younger than you, than they had been for older generations.

The findings showed that taller children in the older two age groups were more likely to come from advantaged homes. One possible explanation is that better-off families of older generations had access to better healthcare and diets, which may have contributed to both children’s physical growth and cognitive development. As these things have become more widely available over time, whether you’re tall or ‘clever’ may be less driven by your social circumstances.

Why this research matters

Cognition is an important measure of health, so understanding what influences it is crucial, particularly if there are things we can change.

The researchers explained that the findings support the theory that environmental factors, such as access to better healthcare, education and diets, may be at least partly responsible.

Read the full research report

Weakening of the cognition and height association from 1957 to 2018: Findings from four British birth cohort studies? by David Bann, Liam Wright, Neil M Davies and Vanessa Moulton.