Why do more intelligent people live healthier and longer lives? One possibility is that intelligence tests assess health of the brain, but psychological science has lacked technology to evaluate this hypothesis. Digital retinal imaging, a new, noninvasive method to visualize microcirculation in the eye, may reflect vascular conditions in the brain. We studied the association between retinal vessel caliber and neuropsychological functioning in the representative Dunedin birth cohort. Wider venular caliber was associated with poorer neuropsychological functioning at midlife, independently of potentially confounding factors. This association was not limited to any specific test domain and extended to informants' reports of cohort members' cognitive difficulties in everyday life. Moreover, wider venular caliber was associated with lower childhood IQ tested 25 years earlier. The findings indicate that retinal venular caliber may be an indicator of neuropsychological health years before the onset of dementing diseases and suggest that digital retinal imaging may be a useful investigative tool for psychological science.
Keywords: brain; cognitive ability; cognitive neuroscience; intelligence; retinal imaging; venular caliber.