Intelligence and anxiety may have evolved together as mutually beneficial traits, research finds.
This may help to explain why people with high intelligence also tend to have higher levels of anxiety.
The benefit may be that intelligence allows people to better imagine what might go wrong.
Worriers tend to keep out of danger so that their genes are the ones carried forward into the next generation.
Non-worries, meanwhile, starved to death because they didn’t prepare for winter or failed to anticipate an enemy raid.
Professor Jeremy Coplan, who led the study, said:
“While excessive worry is generally seen as a negative trait and high intelligence as a positive one, worry may cause our species to avoid dangerous situations, regardless of how remote a possibility they may be.
In essence, worry may make people ‘take no chances,’ and such people may have higher survival rates.
Thus, like intelligence, worry may confer a benefit upon the species.”
For the study, people with high anxiety levels were compared with those with average levels.
Brain scans were carried out, along with tests of intelligence and anxiety.
In people diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, IQ was positively correlated with worry.
In other words, people who were more intelligent also worried more.
Brain scans found that activity in sub-cortical white matter correlated with both anxiety and intelligence.
Previous research has shown that people who are low in intelligence are also prone to worry — possibly because they achieve less in life.
Average intelligence show less of a link with anxiety.
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, 2003) 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 Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience (Coplan et al., 2012).