Film and television like to tell people who have a hard time despite or because of their high intelligence. Is there anything for a cliche? Analysis of four longitudinal studies speaks against this. Findings from scientists around Matt Brown from the Institute of Autism and Development Medicine in Lewisburg (USA): »High cognitive skills are generally beneficial – and practically never harmful. “
The basis was data from approximately 50,000 people, all of whom completed cognitive testing in childhood or adolescence. The oldest sample consisted of approximately 10,000 randomly selected youth in the US state of Wisconsin who graduated from school in 1957. The most recent sample was born in the United States between 1980 and 1984 and has been interviewed 17 times since. Another American cohort born around 1960 reported 26 times. And the British sample consisted of more than 16,000 people born in 1970, each sharing their lives between the ages of 10 and 46.
Scientists used educational qualifications, income and job satisfaction, physical and mental health, social interaction and volunteering as measures for a good life. They specifically looked for areas of life in which low or average cognitive performance was more beneficial than high intelligence. But they found only six of the more than 200 possible negative effects, for example, on sleep habits and job satisfaction. However, the effects were weak and did not appear in all samples and age groups.
Safe even in high doses?
In most cases this was expected: the higher the cognitive performance, the better for life, for example education, income and health levels. Brown and colleagues believe that it is unlikely that the positive relationship will reverse at some point. “We have no indication of any kind of loss or a threshold beyond which higher values are not beneficial.” Accordingly, the following also applies to excellent thinking skills: Doesn’t hurt much.
So why do many people believe that higher intelligence has a downside? Researchers consider it a downfall: if gifted people fail in life, their intelligence is blamed because it is too much. With average intelligence, other characteristics will be used to explain, such as lack of empathy.
Of course, intelligence is not a guarantee for a good life, the authors acknowledge. Other features such as duty, environment and chance are also included. Furthermore, the available studies did not differentiate between the effects of different cognitive abilities, and they were samples with few numbered ones in general.