Among 2,792 children tested 69 years ago, the researchers discovered that those still alive at age 76 had an average IQ score of 102 when they were 11 years old. In contrast, those who had died by 1997 had a childhood average score of 97.7.
A team led by professor Lawrence Whalley of the University of Edinburgh based their findings on a study of intelligence tests on 11-year-old children living in Aberdeen, Scotland. An IQ of 100 was set as average.
Then they tracked down who among those children from 1932 were still alive and kicking in 1997, to see what had happened to them.
And came the surprise, said Whalley. The scientists found that men and women with higher IQ scores as children were much more likely to be alive 60 years later.
"Our data show that high mental ability in late childhood reduces the chance of death up to age 76," Whalley said in his research report.
The researchers said a 15-point lower score meant people had a 20 percent less chance of seeing their 76th birthday, and those with a 30-point disadvantage were 37 percent less likely to live that long.
Just why IQ should have an effect on aging appeared to baffle the experts.
"The effect is not caused by a single factor," said Whalley, "and may even be reversed, as was found for men during World War II" because of the increase in the male death rate.
Other experts suggested childhood diet and economic status could and probably did play a role.
Dr. Colin Cooper, a psychologist at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, suggested that brighter people were more likely to plan for the long term while those with lower IQs were more likely to be tempted by "insubstantial short-term gain."
"It is also possible," he told BBC News Online, "that people with higher IQs are more likely to take on board health education messages."
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