Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Are albinos smarter?

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.


Anonymous said...

Prof. Dabbs in Heroes Rogues and Lovers suggested that high testosterone men tend to have had trouble paying attention, sitting still in school ect.
Possibly albinos have less testosterone which makes it easier for those albinos who happen to have superior inteligence to succeed.

Anonymous said...


Success which might be most outstanding in a high testosterone population, moreover
"librarian" and "financial officer" do not sound like occupations where low testosterone would hold you back.

Anonymous said...

Tyron 1931. Albino rats found to be better at maze learning, from-

Eye Colour ,Sex and Race: Keys to Human Behavior. by Morgan Worthy

TK said...

Excellent article. My daughter has albinism and many times I have been surprised by her.. I knew I must be biased so I did a little research.. There is a mutation in one of the glutamate receptors.. So this may influence the speed at which a child learns.. The structure of the brain is also different so this may leave a little more room for language development, etc..

Anonymous said...

calling people with albinism "albino" is like calling black people "blacks". (thats a bad thing)

Anonymous said...

I have albinism and most others that I've met....I met through gifted classes in school and in college. To be in a gofted class your I.Q. test must be higher than average and all of those I met in college were also in gifted classes when they were in grade school. My I.Q. is 145 and most of these others were between 130 and 160. Can anyone make sense of this? I would like to know why we all seem to hsve higher IQ's and why we all seem to connect on a higher understanding of eachother than average people. I feel like those with albinism I have never met understand better than even my wondeful wife sometimes. There just seems to be a deeper connection among us all Just curious.

TK said...

This is interesting:


Akash said...

Is there any way to help it for students who want to study,coz they face lot of problems

Anonymous said...

I read an article that said older Albinos have more Neuromelanin than non-albinos. (Neuromelanin is used for brain function though the actually functionality or purpose is still widely unknown). Perhaps all Melanin, Eumelanin, Phenomelanin, and Neuromelanin are all connected. When you have less of one melanin you have more of the other.... Well, the Yoruba god, Obatala, though making them by "accident", did say that Albinos were his beloved childern. His symbolic color also is white...hmmmm

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R. Ansh said...

I'm Suraj Sharma, from india, suffering from albinism. 75% of my vision is totally lost. I'm in 12th grade and wishing for to be a cosmologist. But the most surprising thing for the people around me is that I'm doing better than those who are normal, in my academic, and real life.. I'm an introvert too so I would say just every person who is suffering from albinism, believe in your potential, you can do better than others.. Seriously..

I still remember, in my school, I was unable to see on blackboard, and afrer 1 year my brain developed the capability of understand things by just hearing the word of teachers.. that is surprising fact for me too..

All the best..