Link identified between lower IQ scores and attempted suicide in men

Jun 04, 2010

Low IQ scores in early adulthood are associated with an increased risk of attempted suicide in men, according to new research funded by the Wellcome Trust.

In the largest study of its kind, a team of researchers studied the medical records of over one million men in Sweden dating back over a period of twenty four years and compared rates of hospital admission for attempted suicide against scores. The research is published today in the .

Out of a cohort of 1.1 million men with IQ measured in early adulthood, almost 18,000 had been admitted to hospital at least once for attempted suicide. Even after adjusting for factors such as age and , the researchers found that men with lower IQ scores were increasingly likely to have attempted suicide at least once. By far the most common method used was poisoning, for example taking an overdose of medication.

Dr David Batty, a Wellcome Trust Fellow at the Medical Research Council Social and Public Heath Sciences Unit, who led the study, says: "We have found a clear link between IQ and attempted suicide in this group of men. In common with some previous, smaller studies, we have shown that men with lower scores have a markedly greater risk of attempted suicide than men of higher IQ."

The researchers suggest a number of possible explanations that might underlie the association. Firstly, low IQ tends to correlate with lower socioeconomic status and income, and so individuals with lower IQ may experience more social and financial disadvantage, leading to an increase in and behaviours. Lower IQ has also been associated with poor health behaviours such as , which also increases suicide risk. However, the researchers believe that these factors are unlikely to fully explain the observed associations.

IQ may also influence an individual's ability to deal with stressful circumstances or traumatic events; studies in children and adolescents suggest that those of higher intelligence are more resilient to stress. Previous research has suggested that individuals with lower IQ scores may have poorer problem-solving abilities and, in times of crisis, be less able to identify practical solutions to their problems. Alternatively, individuals with higher verbal IQ scores may have a greater ability to talk about and share emotion or distress and this, in turn, might reduce the risk of self-harm.

Another possible explanation, though one which the researchers were unable to investigate further, was the role of violence early in life. Exposure to violence early in life, either directly as a victim or indirectly as a witness has been previously shown to influence both IQ or academic performance and future risk of suicide or suicidal thoughts.

"Suicide, either attempted or actual, is a serious problem, particularly amongst young adults, but we have a relatively poor understanding of what leads a person to take such drastic action," says Dr Elise Whitley. "If we can better understand the association between IQ and , this will provide valuable insight into why some people make such a tragic decision. Such knowledge would help inform public health strategies and provide help and support for vulnerable groups."

The researchers caution that, because the analyses looked at hospital admissions in Swedish men aged 16 to 57, the results are not necessarily generalisable to other countries, to women or to older men.

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User comments : 6

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Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (2) Jun 04, 2010
Probably good results.

If an intelligent person was going to kill themself, I think they'd use something faster and less painful than poison, such as a rifle bullet to the brain.

Oh yeah, all people who drink alcohol are unintelligent, not just binge drinkers.
Jimster
5 / 5 (1) Jun 04, 2010
The men with higher IQs are more successful in actually achieving suicide than their lower IQ brothers. What is the mystery?
Shootist
not rated yet Jun 04, 2010
Not to be too callus, but it does take brains to have a successful suicide.

And alcoholic's average IQ test score is 1 SD higher than the General Population, though that is a 40 year old study the results of which may have been supplanted by more recent work. Possibly.
LuckyBrandon
1 / 5 (2) Jun 04, 2010
Either way it goes, you have to be stupid to try to kill yourself anyways....
Amy2010
1 / 5 (1) Jun 05, 2010
Low IQ scores in early adulthood are associated with an increased risk of attempted suicide in men

What about sucessful suicide? Could this explain why so many more males take their own life than do women?
Duude
not rated yet Jun 06, 2010
Guns are less readily available in Sweden than the US, thus poison is a logical choice.