Early psychological researchers proposed a link between intelligence and low-level perceptual performance. It was recently suggested that this link is driven by individual variations in the ability to suppress irrelevant information, evidenced by the observation of strong correlations between perceptual surround suppression and cognitive performance. However, the neural mechanisms underlying such a link remain unclear. A candidate mechanism is neural inhibition by gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), but direct experimental support for GABA-mediated inhibition underlying suppression is inconsistent. Here we report evidence consistent with a global suppressive mechanism involving GABA underlying the link between sensory performance and intelligence. We measured visual cortical GABA concentration, visuo-spatial intelligence and visual surround suppression in a group of healthy adults. Levels of GABA were strongly predictive of both intelligence and surround suppression, with higher levels of intelligence associated with higher levels of GABA and stronger surround suppression. These results indicate that GABA-mediated neural inhibition may be a key factor determining cognitive performance and suggests a physiological mechanism linking surround suppression and intelligence.