Tuesday 3 June 2014

Lapps, Finns, cold winters and intelligence

Renée Zellweger cropped.jpg

Cold Winter theory is very simple: warm blooded, warm climate adapted humans drifted North in search of game, and perished unless they could hunt, cope with the climate, and plan wisely so as to live from one winter to the next. Hence, survivors had more forethought, more behavioural restraint regarding immediate gratification, and a whole lot of other changes to help them adapt to hunting and later farming in cold climates.

If any of this is true, people living in the far North should be very bright. All the short-term-ist, happy go lucky, non-planners should have died off long ago, leaving crafty, calculating, clever survivors.

 Elijah L. Armstrong, Michael A. Woodley, Richard Lynn. Cognitive abilities amongst the Sámi population. Intelligence Volume 46, September–October 2014, Pages 35–39


Into these wintry wastes trek the young Woodley, the even younger Armstrong and the older Lynn to sniff out whether the far Northern tribe of the Lapps (or Sami) differ from the nearby Finns, a mere reindeer ride to the South. This isolated group is similar to the Siberian Chukchi. Cranial volumes are slightly smaller than the European mean. Sámi appear to be different from other Artic peoples, and were historically reindeer herders or fishermen, although today they are largely urbanized while maintaining traditional folkways.

Not much different, it seems. The Lapps are not that different from the Finns in terms of intelligence. Lapps have an IQ around 101, as do the comparison group of rural Finns, and are tilted towards visuo-spatial ability and away from verbal ability. These data suggest that the Sámi have the same profile that most people of the world have, i.e., they perform better on spatial than on verbal tests relative to the Caucasoid norm. Both groups are stronger on non-verbal than verbal skills, which might be expected of hunters searching for game in the landscape.

However, these three intelligence explorers are careful to show how many other factors must be considered. They looked at data from four studies on the Skolt Lapps, who may have turned out to be the brighter ones. They do some careful work to estimate the underlying g factor, and correct for the reliability of the tests, for restriction of range and for the Flynn effect.

Overall, the results are at best only somewhat consistent with Cold Winters theory (Lynn, 1991 and Lynn, 2006). As Hart (2007, p. 417), noted, a higher IQ for the Sámi is expected from this theory. Nevertheless, the Sámi may live in a lower quality environment, thus their genotypic IQ might actually be higher still. The Sámi might have evolved their distinct cognitive profile in response to recurrent features of an Arctic ecology over the last 2,000 years (before which they may have more closely approximated the other Caucasoids in terms of the structure of their mental abilities). This would support Kura's (2013) and Woodley and Figueredo's (2013) conjecture of very recent accelerated evolution in response to cold temperatures.

The IQ of the Laplanders is higher than that of the Inuit peoples, whose IQ is around 90.5, and the Aleut, whose IQ is around 92 (Lynn, 2006). This may be related to the fact that Mongoloid Arctic peoples are genetically close to the North Amerindians, whose IQ is about 86 (Lynn, 2006), whereas the Sámi are genetically about equidistant from the Amerindians and Europeans (Jensen, 1998 and Lynn, 2007 estimates the IQ of the Mongols using a similar strategy). Comparing the IQ of the Sámi to that of three other Arctic groups, the Ainu, Tungus and Altai, the Sámi exhibit similar IQs to the Ainu (IQ 97; Kura et al., 2014) but possess substantially higher IQs than the Tungus and the Altai (Tungus IQ 70–80, Altai IQ 67–75; Lynn & Shibaev, under review). The latter study listed two samples of Tungus, who attained IQs of 70 and 80. The latter sample was extremely poor and isolated (information about the living conditions of the first sample was not given), which may account largely for their low IQ. The study also cited one study of Altai IQ where Altai (who were largely illiterate) received IQs of 67 or 75, depending on the test.

The authors continue: Two final problems with the present study are, firstly, that all of our samples are Skolt Sámi; there are no other Laplanders included in this sample. Skolts are not the only subgroup of Sámi, and they were somewhat more isolated than other Sámi when the studies were conducted (Forseius, 1973), so the samples may therefore be unrepresentative. Secondly, our estimate for the Finnish national IQ (101) is somewhat conservative. A higher Finnish IQ is indicated by reaction time studies (Woodley, te Nijenhuis, & Murphy, under review), which are not included in Lynn and Vanhanen's (2012) review. Therefore, the Finnish IQ, and by extension the Sámi IQ (which in the first analysis was estimated relative to the Finnish IQ), may be somewhat higher than that estimated here.

In summary, cold winters probably had as much effect on Lapps as on Finns, but it does not of itself account for the lower intelligence of other Artic peoples who were drawn from other, less able, populations. So, I would interpret this result as one of those “Consistent with” rather than “Stongly suggest of” conclusions.

Actress Renée Zellweger, pictured above, is of possible Sami extraction, on her mother’s side.  Sibelius, he was Finnish.


  1. Cold Winters theory is likely true in the sense that most Arctic peoples have higher IQs than tropical hunter-gatherers. However, contra the original theory, it is NOT largely responsible for the average IQs or the traits of modern civilized peoples. These developed with agriculture (The 10,000 Year Explosion + A Farewell to Alms).

    As well, I doubt the Sami are a good example of a purely Arctic people. Almost certainly they are significantly admixed with farming peoples from the south.

    1. The Sámi are not an outlier amongst Arctic peoples. Except for those who live in horrendous environments, Arctic peoples have IQs of >90.

      I think CWT explains >50% of global IQ variance, though certainly not all of it. That is why within 'macro-races' (e.g., amongst subgroups of the Europids, NE Mongolids, etc.), there is not massive IQ variance.

    2. That's being a bit liberal with "outlier." The other Arctic peoples have avg. IQs over 90, but only just (91, 92). The difference between the Sami and these groups is as big as the difference between Northern and Southern Europeans.

      How awful is the environment of the lower-scoring northern Asian groups? So much worse than say the Inuit that you'd expect that much of a lower score?

      CWT works primarily because of Europeans and East Asians (both groups who went through Clarkian selection) remove them and the correlation become weaker - see the Americas.

  2. Saamis seem to be very unmixed with farming people up to recently. Assimilation only ever went one way, children of mixed marriages got raised as Swedes or Norwegians. This seems to be confirmed by lineage studies and genetic distance measures. Of course today Saami studies suffer from the problem that Saami heritage is suddenly cool and everyone is trying to claim some...

    But Saamis and specifically Skolt Saamis have intermarried with Nenets (one of the mostly Asian looking Finno-Ugric peoples) and Komi people (one of the mostly European looking Finno-Ugric peoples) who are their immediate neighbours in Russia.

    Saamis score very distant in measures of genetic distance to even Finns but their Y-chromosome and mitochondrial lineages are very similar to Finnish. This is rather consistent with the old consensus view of prehistory that Saamis and Finns split into separate peoples when one part started farming and another part didn't. So comparison with Finns should be a really good way to see if a few thousand years has had an influence (though you have the problem that Finns are actually an even more exceptional population, the most northern farmers).

    Finno-Ugric arctic peoples are actually all either relatively recent introductions or language changers as the protolanguage reconstruction puts the original speakers far to the south.

  3. Thanks for your very informative comments.

  4. Is it possible to determine which groups had ancestors in the arctic the longest back in time? What are the oldest known burials? Have the oldest bones been tested for DNA?

  5. Dr. James Thompson,

    what about the middle eastern admixture in modern europeans?
    We now know from studies coming from 2014 that western europeans are not mostly descended from local hunter-gatherers, but from incoming middle eastern farmers during the neolithic, who replaced the earlier hunter gatherers.
    The saami, on the other hand, have high frequencies of mtDNA U, associated with european HGs. Since they are primarily descended from HGs and don't have much farmer ancestry this would explain why they are IQ is tilted toward visuo-spatial skills and not verbal skills.

  6. Agreed, but still not much different from Finns, which is somewhat against cold winter prediction and, confusingly, different from the lower IQ Amerindian Arctic peoples. A puzzle, it seems.

  7. Well we know of a few ancestral components:

    WHG/western hunter gatherer - present at levels of about 50% in northern europeans, and much lower in southern europeans, this correlates most with native european ancestry

    EEF/early european farmers - this correlates with ancestry from incoming neolithic middle eastern farmers and is the bulk of european ancestry (non-saami)

    ENA/eastern non-african - this correlates with ancestry from east eurasian peoples (east asians, south indians, aboriginal australians, melanesians, etc.)

    ANE/ancestral north eurasian - a very widespread ancestry in northeastern europeans, amerindians, south central asians, north caucasians. It spread from somewhere in siberia in the distant past, but a lot of genome bloggers think it was spread by different related groups in different migrations.

    Needless to say, any pure representatives of these ancient populations are extinct. For example, amerindians appear to be a 50/50 mixture of ancient east asians and the ancient north eurasians they crossed on the way to beringia. Europeans, are a mix of middle eastern farmers (mainly) and the ancient hunter gatherers of europe.

    Of all these ancient peoples, the only groups who lived for any considerable period of time north of the 45° latitude were the european hunter-gathers and ancient north eurasians. And they were almost completely replaced by incoming southern folks, (middle easterners in the case of europeans, and east asians, now siberians, in the case of the ANEs).

    What gives?
    If anything, it could be possible to correlate IQ with levels of the five ancestries. In europe there is a cline of IQ from northwest to southeast, reflecting almost exactly ancient (and recent) middle eastern ancestry. So it is tempting to say that it is middle eastern admixture that is lowering the IQ of southeast europeans.
    But do we know what the IQ of these ancient groups was?
    The middle-east is further terribly complicated by cousin-marriage which causes all sorts of birth defects. If these ancient middle-eastern neolithic farmers were so terribly stupid how did they displace the big,tough native european HGs?

    And according to the cold-winter theory, the north eurasians would have to have the highest IQ of any human group, having lived in siberia at the end of the ice age. And yet amerindians, who have significant ancestry from this group, have a lower IQ than their unadmixed east asian cousins.

  8. Thanks for your highly informative comments. I think Greg Cochran is the guy to go to for this one, and also Razib Khan and HBD Chick. As a psychologist the very best I can do is measure the abilities of current survivors, and only speculate that our ancestors must have done something right to get us thus far. Of course, the problems they had to solve were different at different times, and winter is only one very obvious problem: disease, pests, war, and climate change are others.

  9. Odd because the Tungus are Sinids related to the Chinese.

    The Ainu are of partly Okhotsk heritage supporting their cultural connection to the Nivkhi people. (The ideas that the Ainu are pristine Jomonese survivors or living Emishi are false.)

    What about the Pacific Northwest peoples speaking languages like Haida and Tlingit? They seem to be recent arrivals from Siberia possessing the Asian war complex, and subject also to brachycranialisation maybe in situ under their intensive hunters gathering.

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