Are the Smartest Among Us More Prone to Mental and Physical Disorders?

Fagjun | Published 2017-12-16 01:56

Researchers have found that people with the highest IQ may indeed be more at risk of developing psychological and physiological disorders.

Why do more intelligent people tend to have poorer mental and physical health?

Why do more intelligent people tend to have poorer mental and physical health?



Having an IQ of over 130 seems to be interesting, and not just because of the fact that you have a higher IQ. Not only are you smarter than a lot of people, but you also get a number of other perks as well. For example, you’re more likely to enjoy success both in the classroom and in the workplace. You’ll also tend to live a longer and healthier life, and you’ll be less likely to experience negative life events like bankruptcies.


However, it looks like being smart isn’t all unbridled success. According to a new study on members of Mensa, highly intelligent people are also more likely to develop a number of psychological and physiological disorders. There may be some truth to the stereotype of the tortured genius after all.

A Correlation Between Intelligence and Health

Intelligent people tend to overanalyze, which may lead to anxiety disorders. 



Ruth Karpinski, a researcher at Pitzer College, and her team emailed a survey about psychological and physiological disorders to 3,715 members of Mensa. Mensa is an organization comprised of people who score at the 98th percentile of standardized IQ tests, with a score of about 132 or more. This basically means that members of Mensa are in the top two percent of the population when it comes to IQ.


The survey asked questions about mood disorders, anxiety disorders, autism, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Things like environmental allergies and autoimmune disorders were also included in the survey. Respondents had to indicate if they’ve ever been formally diagnosed with one or more of these disorders, or if they’ve ever suspected that they may have these disorders.


Upon calculation, the researchers took the percentage of Mensa members who reported experiencing these disorders and compared it to the national average. They found that members of Mensa had much higher rates of having the different disorders. For example, 10 percent of the general population have been diagnosed with anxiety disorder. However, as much as 20 percent of Mensa members have reported having the same disorder. 11 percent of the general population have environmental allergies, while 33% of Mensa members report having the same.


Is physical activity a good way to combat overexcitabilities?

Is physical activity a good way to combat overexcitabilities?



So why are the members of Mensa more likely to develop these disorders than the general population? Karpinski and the other researchers think that the hyper brain/hyper body theory may be able to explain. According to this theory, highly intelligent people are more prone to psychological and physiological “overexcitabilities”, or an intense reaction to a threat or insult. Psychological overexcitabilities lead to a tendency to worry; highly intelligent people, for example, have a tendency to overanalyze. This may trigger a stress response, which may lead to anxiety.


Of course, what the findings point out is a correlation, and not actually a causation. Having a high IQ may not be the only or even the most important cause of these disorders. It’s possible, for example, that highly intelligent people may be more occupied with more intellectual pursuits, and thus lead more sedentary lifestyles. Being more physically active has been known to lead to better mental and physical health.


If further research proves that overexcitabilities are what cause the correlation between high IQ and poorer mental and physical health, then we may find better ways to manage these responses.

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