Highly intelligent people are at increased risk of mental illness, according to new research.
This is because the brains of intelligent people are hyperexcitable, the researchers think.
A higher IQ leads to a greater awareness of their surroundings and what is going on.
This causes the central nervous system to be more reactive, making intelligent people more ‘jumpy’.
Dr Nicole Tetreault, study co-author, said:
“A minor insult such as a clothing tag or an unnatural sound may trigger a low level, chronic stress response which then activates a hyper body response.
When the sympathetic nervous system becomes chronically activated, it finds itself in a continuous fight, flight, or freeze state that triggers a series of immune changes in both the body and the brain-altering behavior, mood, and functioning.”
The conclusions come from a survey of 3,715 members of MENSA, whose members all have high IQs (above 130).
They reported their own mood and anxiety disorders as well as other conditions such as ADHD, autism and any physiological problems.
This data was compared to the national averages for these conditions.
Ms Audrey Kinase Kolb, study’s co-author, said:
“If high intelligence was not a risk factor for these diseases and disorders, we would see a similar prevalence rate between the two groups.
However, in this study, the Mensa population had significantly higher rates across the board.
For example, just over 10% of the US has a diagnosed anxiety disorder, compared to 20% for Mensans.
For these conditions, having a high intelligence is related to having between 2 to 4 times the chance of having a diagnosis compared to the average American.”
Ms Ruth Karpinski, the study’s first author, said:
“While falling within the extreme right tail of the Bell Curve is generally touted as a ‘gift’ leading to exceptional outcomes, this is not always the case.
Those with high IQ possess unique intensities and overexcitabilities which can be at once both remarkable and disabling on many levels.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Intelligence (Karpinski et al., 2017).