The relationship between temperament, polygenic score for intelligence and cognition: A population-based study of middle-aged adults

Pekka Tölli, Liisa Keltikangas-Järvinen, Terho Lehtimäki, Niklas Ravaja, Mirka Hintsanen, Ari Ahola-Olli, Katja Pahkala, Mika Kähönen, Nina Hutri-Kähönen, Tomi T. Laitinen, Päivi Tossavainen, Leena Taittonen, Henrik Dobewall, Eero Jokinen, Olli Raitakari, C. Robert Cloninger, Suvi Rovio, Aino Saarinen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


We investigated whether temperament modifies an association between polygenic intelligence potential and cognitive test performance in midlife. The participants (n = 1647, born between 1962 and 1977) were derived from the Young Finns Study. Temperament was assessed with Temperament and Character Inventory over a 15-year follow-up (1997, 2001, 2007, 2012). Polygenic intelligence potential was assessed with a polygenic score for intelligence. Cognitive performance (visual memory, reaction time, sustained attention, spatial working memory) was assessed with CANTAB in midlife. The PGSI was significantly associated with the overall cognitive performance and performance in visual memory, sustained attention and working memory tests but not reaction time test. Temperament did not correlate with polygenic score for intelligence and did not modify an association between the polygenic score and cognitive performance, either. High persistence was associated with higher visual memory (B = 0.092; FDR-adj. p = 0.007) and low harm avoidance with higher overall cognitive performance, specifically better reaction time (B = −0.102; FDR-adj; p = 0.007). The subscales of harm avoidance had different associations with cognitive performance: higher “anticipatory worry,” higher “fatigability,” and lower “shyness with strangers” were associated with lower cognitive performance, while the role of “fear of uncertainty” was subtest-related. In conclusion, temperament does not help or hinder one from realizing their genetic potential for intelligence. The overall modest relationships between temperament and cognitive performance advise caution if utilizing temperament-related information e.g. in working-life recruitments. Cognitive abilities may be influenced by temperament variables, such as the drive for achievement and anxiety about test performance, but they involve distinct systems of learning and memory.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12798
JournalGenes, Brain and Behavior
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • cognitive abilities
  • cognitive performance
  • cognitive test
  • genetic
  • GWAS
  • intelligence
  • polygenic score
  • prospective
  • TCI
  • temperament

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Neurology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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