Five surprising downsides to being highly intelligent

Rob Waugh

Ernest Hemingway famously wrote, ‘Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.’

Many of us imagine that being intelligent would equate to high earnings, romantic success and (probably) happiness.

But is that really the case?

Several scientific studies have pointed out that intelligence often doesn’t equal happiness – or even success.

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Here are five science-backed downsides to having above-average intelligence.

You’re more likely to suffer from anxiety

Quashing misconceptions is the best way to move forward

It turns out that the tired old stereotype of the ‘tortured genius’ has a grain of truth to it.

Researchers analysed Mensa members with high IQs – over 130 – and found that ‘those with high intelligence are at significantly greater risk for … psychological disorders’.

The Pfizer College study examined 3,715 members of American Mensa and found that around 20% had an anxiety disorder – double the figure for the population at large.

The researchers believe that the heightened perceptions of intelligent people, ‘may predispose them to certain psychological disorders..’

You could well feel unfulfilled

A famous 1926 study by psychologist Lewis Terman followed 1,500 pupils with IQs of 140 or higher through their lives.

While many of the ‘Termites’ went on to fame and fortune, many others pursued more humble professions such as typists or sailors.

Terman said, according to the BBC, ‘intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated.’

You’re more likely to misuse alcohol and drugs

Intelligent people don’t necessarily do the most intelligent things – and large-scale studies have shown that more intelligent people are more likely to consume psychoactive drugs.

Studies have shown that children with high IQs are more likely to struggle with alcohol abuse – and a 2012 study in Annals of Epidemiology found that high IQ was also associated with drug use.

Based on the 1958 Child Development Survey, the researchers followed 6713 children whose IQ was measured at 11, and who answered questions about drug use at age 42.

The researchers found that in women, higher IQ scores meant a higher risk of using cannabis, amphetamines, magic mushrooms and cocaine.

You’re more likely to be physically lazy

Intelligent people might be smart – but that doesn’t mean they always make intelligent decisions about their health.

Researchers from Florida Gulf Coast University rated 60 volunteers using a ‘Need for Cognition’ test – dividing them into ‘thinkers’ and ‘non-thinkers’.

They then monitored their physical activity for a week – and found that the ‘non-thinkers’ tended to be much more active than the thinkers.

The researchers write, ‘High-NFC individuals seem more content to “entertain themselves” mentally, whereas low-NFC individuals quickly experience boredom and experience it more negatively.

You might be isolated

Researchers from the LSE and Singapore Management University analysed data from a large survey involving 15,000 people aged 18 to 28 – who also underwent IQ tests.

They found that, for highly intelligent people socialising with friends was linked to unhappiness.

The researchers write, ‘More intelligent individuals experience lower life satisfaction with more frequent socialization with friends.’