People with high IQ are considered to have an advantage in many domains. They are predicted to have:
- Higher educational attainment
- Better jobs
- Higher income level
Yet, it turns out that a high IQ is also associated with various mental and immunological diseases like
- Bipolar disorder
- ADHD as well as allergies
- Immune disorders.
Why is that??
A new paper published in the journal Intelligence reviews the literature and explores the mechanisms that possibly underlie this connection.
In the study:
- Authors compared data are taken from- 3,715 members of the American Mensa Society.
- (People who have scored in the top 2% of intelligent tests) to data from national surveys so that they can explore the prevalence of several disorders in those with higher intelligence compared to the average population.
- The results showed that-
- Highly intelligent people are 20% more likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- 80% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD
- 83% more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety
- 182% more likely to develop at least one mood disorder
When it comes to physiological diseases-
- People with high cognitive abilities are 213% more likely to have environmental allergies
- 108% more likely to have asthma
- 84% more likely to have an autoimmune disease
The researchers turned to the field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) to look for some of the answers.
PNI examines how the chronic stress accumulated as a response to environmental factors influences the communication between the brain and the immune system.
The researchers discovered-
- A point that people with high IQ have the tendency for “intellectual overexcitability" and a hyper-reactivity of the central nervous system.
- On the one hand, this gives people with high IQ heightened awareness that helps their creative and artistic work.
- In fact, the mental ability of highly intelligent people identifies one aspect to be “a broader and deeper capacity to comprehend their surroundings."
- This hyper-reactivity, however, can also lead to deeper depressions and poor mental health.
- This turns out to be particularly true for poets, novelists and people with high verbal intelligence. Their intense emotional response to the environment increases tendencies for rumination and worry, both of which predict depression and anxiety disorders.
People with overexcitability may have strong reactions to seemingly harmless external stimuli like an annoying clothing tag or a sound. The given reaction may turn into low-level chronic stress and launch an inappropriate immune response.
When the body believes it is in danger (regardless of whether it is an objectively real one like a toxin or an imagined one like an annoying sound), it launches a cascade of physiological responses that include a myriad of hormones, neurotransmitters and signalling molecules. When these processes are chronically activated, they can alter the body and the brain, dysregulate immune function and lead to conditions like asthma, allergies and autoimmune diseases.
The scientific literature has confirmed-
- The association between gifted children and an increased rate of allergies and asthma.
- One study shows that 44% of those with an IQ over 160 suffered from allergies compared to 20% of age-matched peers. The discovery done by the authors of this latest paper further supports that connection.
The authors conclude in his research that it is important to further study the relationship between high intelligence (particularly the top 2%) and illness, most importantly to demonstrate causation and further to expose the disadvantage of having a high IQ. As they say, “This gift can either be a catalyst for empowerment and self-actualization or it can be a predictor of dysregulation and debilitation" and in order to serve this group, it is important “to acknowledge the rumbles of thunder that follow in the wake of their brilliance."