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There is an emerging literature linking cognitive ability with a wide range of psychiatric disorders. These findings have led to the hypothesis that diminished 'cognitive reserve' is a causal risk factor for psychiatric disorders. However, it is also feasible that a family history of mental disorders may confound this relationship, by contributing to both a slight impairment in cognitive ability, and an increased risk of psychiatric disorder. On the basis of a large, population-based sample of young adult male conscripts (n=160 608), we examined whether the presence of a family history of a range of mental disorders was associated with cognitive ability, as tested by the Børge Priens Prøve. In those with no individual-level history of mental disorder, a family-level history of a mental disorder was associated with a slight reduction in cognitive ability. In general, this pattern was found regardless of the nature of the psychiatric disorder in the family. Our study suggests that shared familial factors may underpin both cognitive ability and the risk of a wide range of psychiatric disorders. Convergent evidence from epidemiology and genetics suggests that shared genetic factors underpin an unexpectedly diverse range of psychiatric disorders. On the basis of the findings of the current study, we speculate that these same shared genetic factors also contribute to general cognitive ability.

Original publication




Journal article


Transl Psychiatry

Publication Date





Adult, Denmark, Genetic Predisposition to Disease, Humans, Intelligence, Male, Mental Disorders, Registries, Young Adult