Having stronger self-control is a sign of higher intelligence, research finds.
Faced with temptation, more intelligent people stay cooler.
In the study, those with higher intelligence waited longer for a larger reward.
For the study, 103 people were given a series of tests that involved choosing between small financial rewards today or larger ones later on.
For example, let’s say I offer you $5 right now, or $10 in a month’s time.
Choosing the larger reward later on makes sense, but immediate returns are tempting.
Psychologists call this ‘delay discounting’: the longer people have to wait for a reward, the more they discount its value.
In other words, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.
The results showed that people with higher intelligence could wait longer for their reward, so demonstrating higher self-control.
Brain scans revealed that people with higher IQ had greater activation in an area called the anterior prefrontal cortex.
This area of the brain allows people to manage complex problems and deal with competing goals.
Dr Noah Shamosh, the study’s first author, said:
“It has been known for some time that intelligence and self-control are related, but we didn’t know why.
Our study implicates the function of a specific brain structure, the anterior prefrontal cortex, which is one of the last brain structures to fully mature.”
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 Psychological Science (Shamosh et al., 2008).