Yep, size does matter (we mean your brain, btw)

Jonathan Kaupanger
July 06, 2018 - 4:12 pm

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Tall people are just smarter than short people, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“There is a significant association between height and overall brain volume. Taller people have larger brains," says Dr. William S. Kremen, Senior Scientist at the Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health at the VA’s San Diego Healthcare System and a professor with University of California San Diego’s Psychiatry Department. "Larger brains tend to be associated with higher intelligence, or overall general cognitive ability.”

For those us who are vertically challenged, cognitive ability is the way our brain thinks, reads, learns, remembers, reasons and pays attention. Basically, everything.

According to Dr. Kremen there are a number of factors that influence cognitive and brain function. “It doesn’t work on an individual case by case basis,” he says. “It’s not if you pick any two people, the taller is always going to be smarter. Remember, Albert Einstein was only five foot nine!”

This information is part of the Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging (VETSA) at Veterans Affairs. VETSA is part of an even larger study, the Vietnam-Era Twin (VET) Registry which began in the early 1980s as a response to concerns regarding long-term health effects of military service. 

There are two main goals for VETSA, and if you’re short, you may want to Google some of these words. The first goal is to understand factors accounting for the great diversity of cognitive and brain trajectories. The second, is to help with early identification of risk factors for mild cognitive impairment and dementia.

The second study coming from VESTA is on how our brains age. Specifically, negative fateful life events and how these are directly associated with advancing brain age. Things like a spouse or child dying, divorces, major decreases in income and even difficulties paying regular bills are considered negative fateful life events. But not everyone’s brain ages as fast when going through one of these events. 

The same can be said for people exposed to traumatic events, not everyone develops post-traumatic stress. So, the next part of this study is to figure out why our brains work like this. Researchers are looking for things to help provide better responses to stressful live events.  Kremen says, “People may be able to be trained to respond better to stressful events and that might moderate the effects on brain.”

“I think we know a tremendous amount about the brain and what we know about brain has increased dramatically in recent years,” says Kremen. “But on the other hand, the brain is an incredibly complexed organ, probably safe to say the most complex organs in the human body. There’s clearly a lot more to be learned about how the brain functions.”

The VET registry is a collection of data from 7,369 male-male twin pairs, both of whom served in the military during the Vietnam War. Scientists around the world have used information from VET and produced more than 250 research publications from the data.  

And in case you’re wondering, “No, I’m not particularly tall,” says Kremen. “I’m average or below. And as far as my intelligence level, that remains to be seen.” 

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