The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Reaction time predicts longevity.

No doubt you have heard the saying: "The Quick and The Dead", as applied, by Hollywood, to gunslingers. Well, it applies more generally than that. It seems that the quick live longer.

Research published in Psychological Science - the Journal of the American Psychological Society - has revealed a strong correlation between reaction time, and ultimate longevity.

The paper, "Reaction time explains IQ's association with death" in January 2005, looked at 898 people aged 54 to 58 in Scotland who were given an IQ test and a reaction time test (visual response time) in 1988. They were also asked various health related questions. Over the next 14 years, 185 of them died. An analysis of the relationship between longevity and IQ, showed (as have other studies) that high IQs tended to correlate with greater survival and longer life times. However, a stronger correlation was found between reaction time and longevity.

Ian Deary of Edinburgh University and Geoff Der of the MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, Glasgow, surmised that reaction time could be indicating the presence or otherwise of brain degeneration, with consequent effects on survival.

In the light of this finding I went off and tested my reaction time. The results were a lot better than characteristic of my age, so on this particular issue I don't seem to have any worries. In fact, I was relieved to find that my times were better than those of 30 year olds (and therefore 20 year olds, too)...Let's hope they stay that way (though as regular readers will know from an earlier post, the ageing process tends to slow one down considerably.)

So, the moral of the story is as Hollywood would love it to be: be quick, not dead.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and seven months, and Tiarnan, two years exactly, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 1:29 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish that study had noted what the people with slow reaction times had died of. If none of them died in traffic accidents then never mind. But on the highway, reaction time can be the difference between a near miss and a fatal collision.

5:19 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, indeed,reaction time is key in such a situation.

I didn't see them publish any details of causes of death - all that they said is that they supposed that reaction time was functioning as a measure of the presence or absence of brain degeneration. Basically, they were saying that a poor reaction time would indicate failing health where it really counts: the brain.

No doubt some of them would have died in road accidents - how many is a question that I cannot answer.

Thank you for your apt post.

12:47 PM  
Anonymous Franz said...

I believe this story should be checked under the aspect that reaction time/speed correlates strongly with overall and fluid intelligence (one being a good predictor of the other and vice versa). Now people who stay intellectually alert and take interest in mentally challenging activities tend to suffer less if at all from dementia etc. and are generally living longer and more fulfilled lives. So I believe the study is a hidden proof of mental fitness equals longevity, not reaction time as such (though, as as pointed out, it helps survive; but seeing accidents are only responsible for a small fraction of mortality amongst adults I don't see much room for a causal relationship here).

4:07 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your comment, Franz. Indeed, it is probable that reaction time is a marker for other mental qualities which also help survival, rather than being the sole explanation itself. All is linked in the mind and body.

9:17 PM  

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