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In this study, we tested the parasite-stress hypothesis for the distribution of intelligence among the USA states: the hypothesis proposes that intelligence emerges from a developmental trade-off between maximizing brain vs. immune function. From this we predicted that among the USA states where infectious disease stress was high, average intelligence would be low and where infectious disease stress was low, average intelligence would be high. As predicted, we found that the correlation between average state IQ and infectious disease stress was − 0.67 (p < 0.0001) across the 50 states. Furthermore, when controlling the effects of wealth and educational variation among states, infectious disease stress was the best predictor of average state IQ.
► We compared rates of infectious disease with average IQ across USA states.
► We controlled for education and wealth.
► Infectious disease was the best predictor of average IQ.
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