Recent studies show that there is a correlation between intelligence and psychological/physiological disorders. Ruth Karpinski and other researchers at Pitzer College found that people with a higher IQ tend to have overexcitabilities (heightened response to stimuli), causing them to feel worry and other negative emotions more intensely than the average person. These overexcitabilities and intense emotions cause people with a higher IQ to be more prone to mental disorders such as depression and anxiety (Karpinski et al. 2017). This study further serves to extend on the current literature on psychoneuroimmunology and a number of psychological/physiological disorders by examining the effect of higher intelligence on the disorders. By conducting research regarding intelligence and disorders focused on high intelligence, this study provides insightful information due to the fact that the majority of other studies focus on intelligence within the normal to low end of the spectrum.
Ruth Karpinksi is a researcher and student at Pitzer College, and this study was conducted by Ruth and her colleagues. The research took place in 2015, and her study was published in the Journal Intelligence in 2017. This study/research did not receive any grants from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.
This information is important because it could potentially help people recognize their own mental illness, as well as help them understand the reason behind the mental illness. Explaining how more intelligent people tend to be more prone to mental illness could help normalize these disorders and bring more attention to helping those with them. This information could overall benefit the scientific community in ways such as by presenting strong evidence regarding the hyper brain and hyper body theory as well. By further researching this overlooked topic, researchers could unearth information that could be beneficial to the treatment of physiological/psychological disorders and improve the lives of millions as a consequence.
Karpinski and her team emailed several members of a group named “American Mensa”, a society that requires members to have an IQ within the top two percentile. This society consists of 50,000 Americans whose ages range from 2 to 106. Data was used from any members who responded and consented to filling out a set of survey questions. Participants were sent a survey that asked about their age, gender, education, IQ, if they had ever been diagnosed with a mental illness, how stressed they were on average within their daily life, etc. Participants were also asked if they had any physiological disorders such as allergies, asthma, sleep apnea, etc. Karpinski and other experts then took the self-reported results and compared them to the overall national data regarding mental illness and physiological disorders to determine if there was a correlation between intelligence and these disorders.
In order to analyze the data, Karpinksi and her colleagues calculated a prevalence level of various categories of mental and physiological disorders within the national averages and the data obtained from Mensa members. The eight categories consisted of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, ADHD/ADD, ASD, food allergies, environmental allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disease. The prevalence for all eight of these disorders were found to be much greater for the group that had the higher IQ, while the national averages that represented people with average intelligence showed much lower prevalence levels. Therefore, these findings were used to conclude that there is a positive correlation between intelligence and physiological/psychological disorders. Karpinski and her teammates have decided that this positive correlation is due to the hyper body and hyper brain theory. This theory states that the highly intelligent individual has a greater capacity for internalizing problems, negative emotions, and uncertainties. Because these individuals take in the world in such an intense way emotionally (hyper brain), they often physiologically process elements such as these in an intense way as well (hyper body) (Navrady et al. 2016).
Because Karpinski chose a group of participants that were mostly male, entirely American, and all worked at one place, these results are not applicable to the rest of the population. The study was conducted through a self-reported questionnaire, meaning that it would be very easy for the participants to lie and skew the results of the study. The authors of this study could not find a similar group of average intelligence people to utilize as a control group, so they used national data regarding disorders of people with any range of intelligence and assumed overall intelligence would be average.
Because there are so many different environmental and biological factors that can contribute to an increased chance of mental illness, it is hard for scientists to strongly confirm a positive or negative correlation between high IQ and mental illness. This has caused experts to further research the idea of environmental factors such as family and childhood experience affecting one’s mental health further within life. Ethical problems also become prevalent regarding the fact that we must question people regarding their personal mental health, the fact that people could be lying or exaggerating about their mental health, and how one defines “intelligence” (Weismann-Arcache 2012).
Repetition of this study using participants that represent a different group of people would strengthen and broaden the information that is known regarding psychoneuroimmunology and specifically the correlation between intelligence and depression. Future research that would build on this study would include using different sets of individuals to represent the group of people with higher intelligence, and compare these results to the results obtained using Mensa members. For example, this study could be conducted using Mensa members from other countries other than America. Due to the fact that Karpinski and her team could not not confirm the Mensa participant’s IQs, further research could be conducted using participants whose IQ could be verified as being a number that would qualify them as being highly intelligent.
Karpinski RI, Kolb AMK, Tetreault NA, Borowski TB. 2017. High intelligence: a risk factor for psychological and physiological overexcitabilities. Intelligence. 2018;66:8–23.
Navrady L, Ritchie S, Chan S, Kerr D, Adams M, Hawkins E, Porteous D, Deary I, Gale C, Batty G, et al. 2016. Intelligence and neuroticism in relation to depression and psychological distress: evidence from two large population cohorts. European Psychiatry. 2017;43:58–65.
Weismann-Arcache C, Tordjman S. 2012. Relationships between depression and high intellectual potential. Depression Research and Treatment. 2012;2012:1–8.