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The cause(s) of ubiquitous cognitive differences between American self-identified racial / ethnic groups (SIREs) is uncertain. Evolutionary-genetic models posit that ancestral genetic selection pressures are the ultimate source of these differences. Conversely, sociological models posit that these differences result from racial discrimination. To examine predictions based on these models, we conducted a global admixture analysis using data from the Pediatric Imaging, Neurocognition, and Genetics Study (PING; N = 1,369 American children). Specifically, we employed the methodology of genetic epidemiology to determine whether genetic ancestry significantly predicts cognitive ability, independent of SIRE. In regression models using four different codings for SIRE as a covariate, we found incremental relationships between genetic ancestry and both general cognitive ability and parental socioeconomic status (SES). The relationships between global ancestry and cognitive ability were partially attenuated when parental SES was added as a predictor and when cognitive ability was the outcome. Moreover, these associations generally held when subgroups were analyzed separately. Our results are congruent primarily with evolutionary-genetic models of group differences, but also with certain environmental models which mimic the predictions of evolutionary-genetic ones. Implications for research on race / ethnic differences in the Americas are discussed, as are methods for further exploring the matter.
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