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Steve Sailer asks whether albinos are smarter. He points to a 1997 New York Times article on albinism in southern Africa:
John M. Makumbe is a professor of political science. Richard Nyathi is chief librarian for a Government ministry. Stanley S. Gunda is a senior financial officer in another ministry. Not so long ago, they might have been killed at birth.
Messrs. Makumbe, Nyathi and Gunda are albinos. In Africa, far more than on any other continent, that is a lifelong curse. They lack the gene that codes the skin pigment melanin, and they are very nearsighted. As white-skinned men in a black society, they are shunned and feared as the products of witchcraft, taunted by children and drunks as ”peeled potatoes,” ”monkeys” and ”ghosts.”
There is a stereotype that all albinos are intelligent and accomplished, as these three men are. But Professor Makumbe said successful albinos were ”a teeny-weeny minute number.” Most, he added, languish at home without education because they cannot see the blackboard at school or because their parents, told such children die young, will not pay for their schooling. …
All three men did well in school, despite vision problems. The genetic differences that cause albinism also change the connections between the optic nerves and the brain. Many albinos have nystagmus — ”dancing eyeballs” — and myopia that, even with thick glasses, can only be corrected to about 20-200.
”Albinos seem more intelligent because they try harder,” Mr. Nyathi said. ”You have to get out of your seat, go up to the board, squint, write two sentences, go back, and still finish the test in the same time as the others.”
Interestingly, the medical literature used to assume that albinism produces mental retardation. Not only are albinos not retarded, they actually seem to do better than average. Manganyl et al. (1974) found they had higher levels of intellectual maturity than participants in a control group. Fulcher et al. (1995) similarly observed significantly higher achievement among albinos in reading, spelling, and arithmetic skills.
Nonetheless, standard IQ tests show no difference between albinos and controls (Beckham 1946; Estrada-Hernández & Harper 2007; Fulcher et al. 1995; Kutzbach et al. 2008). It looks like albinos have the same intellectual potential but make better use of it.
This seems to be Dr. Kromberg’s explanation: ”Albinos have normal I.Q.’s but a higher capability. I think it’s because they don’t play in the sun all day. They stay inside and do their homework.”
On the other hand, IQ tests do not measure all aspects of intellectual performance. This is notably the case with ‘executive function,’ i.e., the ability to resist habit, the speed at which you can change the focus of your attention or the contents of your working memory, and the speed at which you can change your goals and respond appropriately. If we look at differences in these functions between identical twins, about 86% to 100% of the variability seems to be heritable (Friedman et al., in press).
Looking through the anthropological literature, I came across two references for higher intellectual attainment among albinos, and one for lower attainment:
Albinos are smart, clean, nice, and pretty. There is nothing wrong with them. [comments from traditional Hopis] (Woolf & Dukepoo 1969)
Some people think that we are useless because of our poor eyesight and skin condition. Others think we are idiots [Comments from Dominican Republic albinos] (Westhoff 1993)
… The mentality of Moon-children [albino Cuna Indians] appears to be normal, and no less than 14 of them have competed in formal school classes. It is a common belief among the Cuna that since they are unable to compete physically, they strive that much harder to succeed intellectually. (Keeler 1953)
For what it’s worth, the last reference also mentioned an apparent difference in head shape:
Head shape of Moon-children appears to be brachycephalic in a higher percentage than normal. No statistical data on this subject were collected, but in addition to my own observations the Indians themselves have remarked about this apparent correlation. (Keeler 1953)
Beckham, A.S. (1946). Albinism in Negro children. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 69, 199-215.
Estrada-Hernández, N., & Harper, D.C. (2007). Research on psychological and personal aspects of albinism: A critical review. Rehabilitation Psychology, 52(3), 263-271.
Friedman, N. P., Miyake, A., Young, S. E., DeFries, J. C., Corley, R. P., & Hewitt, J. K. (in press). Individual differences in executive functions are almost entirely genetic in origin. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
Fulcher, T., O’Keefe, M., Bowell, R., Lanigan, B., Burke, T., Carr, A., O’Rourke, M., Bolger, M. (1995). Intellectual and educational attainment in albinism. J. Pediatr. Ophthalmol. Strabismus, 32(6), 368-72.
Keeler, C. (1953). The Caribe Cuna Moon-Child and its heredity, Journal of Heredity, 44, 162-171.
Kutzbach, B.R., Summers, C.G., Holleschau, A.M., & MacDonald, J.T. (2008). Neurodevelopment in Children with Albinism. Ophthalmology, in press
Manganyl, N.C., Kromberg, J.G., Jenkins, T. (1974). Studies on albinism in the South African Negro. I. Intellectual maturity and body image differentiation. J Biosoc Sci, 6(1), 107-12.
McNeil Jr., D.G. (1997). Black, Yet White: A Hated Color in Zimbabwe, The New York Times, February 9, 1997.
Westhoff, W. (1993). A psychosocial study of albinism in a predominantly mulatto Caribbean community. Psychological Reports, 73, 1007-1010.
Woolf, C.M. and F.C. Dukepoo. (1969). Hopi Indians, inbreeding, and albinism, Science, 164, 30-37.