The general factor of intelligence (g) is said to be physiological. Jensen (1998: xii) states that “Students in all branches of the behavioral and social sciences, as well as students of human biology and evolution, need to grasp the essential psychometric meaning of g, its basis in genetics and brain physiology, and its broad social significance.” There are, furthermore, “a number of suggestive neurological correlates of g, but as yet these have not been integrated into a coherent neurophysiological theory of g” (Jensen, 1998: 257). I personally don’t care for correlations too much anymore, I’m interested in actual causes. Jensen (1998: 578) also states “Although correlated with g [size of the brain, metabolic rate, nerve conduction velocity, and latency and amplitude of evoked electrical potentials], these physiological variables have not yet provided an integrated explanatory theory.”
This seems suspiciously like Dreary’s (2001: 14) statement that there “is no such thing as a theory of human intelligence differences – not in the way that grown-up sciences like physics or chemistry have theories.” If g is physiological, then where is the explanatory theory? On that same matter, where is the explanatory theory for individual intelligence differences? That’s one thing that needs to be explained, in my opinion. I could muster something up off the top of my head, such as individual differences in glucose metabolism in the brain, comparing both high and low IQ people (Cochran et al, 2006; Jensen, 1998: 137), however, that is still not good enough.
In physiology there is sliding filament theory which explains the mechanism of muscle contraction (Cooke, 2004). Why is there no such theory of why individuals differ in intelligence and why have these “suggestive neurological correlates of g” not been formulated into a coherent neurophysiological theory? There are numerous theories in physiology, but a theory of g or why individuals differ in intelligence is not one of them.
It’s like Darwin only saying “Species change“, and that’s it; no theory of how or why. He’s just stating something obvious. Similarly, saying “Person A is smarter or has a higher IQ than person B” is just an observation; there is no theory of how or why for why individuals differ in intelligence. There are theories for group differences (garbage cold winter theory), but no individual differences in intelligence? Hmmm… Sure it’d be a ‘fact that species change over time’, but without a theory of how or why, how useful is that observation? Similarly, it is true that some people are more intelligent than others (score higher on IQ tests), yet there is no explanatory theory as to why? I believe this ties back to the physiological basis for g: are physiologists studying it, and if not, why?
Reaction time (RT) is one of the most talked about physiological correlates in regards to IQ. However, as a fitness professional, I know that exercise can increase reaction time, especially in those with intellectual disabilities (Yildirim et al, 2001). I am now rethinking the correlate between reaction time and IQ, since it can be trained in children, especially those with intellectual disabilities. Clearly, RT can be trained by exercise, participating in sports, and even by playing video games (Green, 2008). So since RT can be trained, I don’t think it’s a good physiological measure for g.
Individuals do differ in individual physiology, however, I have never heard of a physiologist attempting to rank individuals on different traits, nevermind attempting to say that a higher level of one variable is better than a lower variable, say blood pressure or metabolic rate. In fact, individuals with high blood pressure and metabolic rates would need immediate medical attention.
There are also wide variations in how immune systems act when faced with pathogens, bacteria and viruses. Though, “no one dreams of ranking individual differences on a general scale of immunocompetence” (Richardson, 2017: 166). So if g is physiological then why don’t other physiological traits get placed on a rank order, with physiologists praising certain physiological functions as “better”?
Richardson (2017: 166-167) writes:
In sum, no physiologist would suggest the following:
(a) that within the normal range of physiological differences, a higher level is better than any others (as is supposed in the construction of IQ tests);
(b) that there is a general index or “quotient” (a la IQ) that could meaningfully describe levels of physiological sufficiency or ability and individual differences in it;
(c) that “normal” variation is associated with genetic variation (except in rare deleterious conditions; and
(d) the genetic causation of such variation can be meaningfully separated from the environmental causes of the variation.
A preoccupation with ranking variations, assuming normal distributions, and estimating their heritabilities simply does not figure in the field of physiology in the way that it does in the field of human intelligence. This is in stark contrast with the intensity of the nature-nurture debate in the human cognitive domain. But perhaps ideology has not infiltrated the subject of physiology as much as it has that of human intelligence.
This is all true. I know of no physiologist who would suggest such a thing. So does it make sense to compare g with physiological variables—even when classic physiological variables do not have some kind of rank order? Heritabilities for BMR are between .4 and .8, which is in the same range as the heritability of IQ. Can you imagine any physiologist on earth suggesting a rank order for physiological traits such as BMR or stroke volume? I can’t, and if you knew anything about physiological variables then you wouldn’t either.
In sum, I believe that conflating g with physiology is erroneous; mostly because physiologists don’t rank physiological traits in the same ways that human intelligence researchers do. Our physiology is intelligent in and of itself, and this process begins in the cell—the intelligent cell. Our physiological systems are intelligent—in our bodies are dynamic systems that keenly respond to whatever is going on in the environment (think of how the body always attempts to maintain homeostasis). Physiology deals with the study of living organisms—more to the point, how the systems that run the organisms work.
Looking at physiological variables and attempting to detangle environmental and genetic effects is a daunting task—especially the way our physiological systems run (responding to cues from the environment, attempting to maintain homeostasis). So if general intelligence—g—had a true biological underpinning in the body, and if physiologists did study it, then they would not have a rank ordering for g like psychologists do; it’d just be another human trait to study.
So the answer to the question “Do physiologists study g?” is no, and if they did they would not have the variable on a rank order because physiologists don’t study traits in that manner—if a true biological underpinning for g exists. Physiology is an intelligent and dynamic system in and of itself, and the process begins in the intelligent cell, except it is on a larger scale, with numerous physiological variables working in concert, constantly attempting to stay in homeostasis.