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Are High IQ People Better Off With Fewer Friends?

March 23, 2016

So says an article published by the Washington Post.

Having discussed high IQ people including those with a perceived higher intelligence a number of times (this one with the highest Google ranking), I like to ponder on these things.

The first in this article tends to reference dwelling among all people as it relates to happiness:

They use what they call “the savanna theory of happiness” to explain two main findings from an analysis of a large national survey (15,000 respondents) of adults aged 18 to 28.

First, they find that people who live in more densely populated areas tend to report less satisfaction with their life overall. “The higher the population density of the immediate environment, the less happy” the survey respondents said they were. Second, they find that the more social interactions with close friends a person has, the greater their self-reported happiness.

Why would high population density cause a person to be less happy? There’s a whole body of sociological research addressing this question. But for the most visceral demonstration of the effect, simply take a 45-minute ride on a crowded rush-hour Red Line train and tell me how you feel afterward.

One would tend to think that if you weren’t in such a densely populated area, that it might lead to greater happiness.  No wonder New York, Chicago and other highly populated cities have such low rankings in this category.

THE NEED TO BE ALONE

I can’t prove it, but there is a tendency for “Smart People” to be either introverted or have a need to spend time alone to gather their thoughts when making contributions to inventions, theorem’s, calculations and other notable achievements. (Note: the link above describes things introverts won’t tell you, but you should know).

Being an author, I know that I prefer quiet to gather my thoughts and increase the powers of concentration on what I am trying to write.  It’s hard to clear your mind when there is a bombardment of distractions either from people, social media or other causes.

The article does state the obvious, long commutes, traffic, waiting in line and crowds are tedious, monotonous, and can grate on anyone over time. The infrastructure is usually older (see the lead in the water in Flint, Mich.)  I’ve often wondered why anyone would want to live in a place like that if they really had a choice.  Maybe that is why there is such a large population outflow to Florida upon retirement.

Kanazawa and Li’s second finding is a little more interesting. It’s no surprise that friend and family connections are generally seen as a foundational component of happiness and well-being. But why would this relationship get turned on its head for really smart people?

I posed this question to Carol Graham, a Brookings Institution researcher who studies the economics of happiness. “The findings in here suggest (and it is no surprise) that those with more intelligence and the capacity to use it … are less likely to spend so much time socializing because they are focused on some other longer term objective,” she said.

Think of the really smart people you know. They may include a doctor trying to cure cancer or a writer working on the great American novel or a human rights lawyer working to protect the most vulnerable people in society. To the extent that frequent social interaction detracts from the pursuit of these goals, it may negatively affect their overall satisfaction with life.

The article and researchers discuss a “Savannah theory of happiness” which is a bit of a reach since there weren’t iPhones for cavemen, although an ability to deal with new challenges seems obvious.

FEAR OF MISSING OUT OF SOMETHING FOR SOME, LOATHING PEOPLE FOR OTHERS

There is a need for many in the general population to gain happiness from their social interactions.  I have relatives who suffer from FoMo syndrome, generally indicating that they derive their happiness and/or satisfaction from others or the perception of others.

When drilling down and specifically targeting high IQ people, there is a distinct difference from the last sentence in the above quote:

Second, they find that the more social interactions with close friends a person has, the greater their self-reported happiness.

But there was one big exception. For more intelligent people, these correlations were diminished or even reversed.

“The effect of population density on life satisfaction was therefore more than twice as large for low-IQ individuals than for high-IQ individuals,” they found. And “more intelligent individuals were actually less satisfied with life if they socialized with their friends more frequently.”

Let me repeat that last one: When smart people spend more time with their friends, it makes them less happy.

Again, an observation from the high IQ group and personal introspection, there seems to be less of a need to find your happiness in others or what others think of you in this space.  It might be in the above stated pursuit of goals:

Hell might actually be other people — at least if you’re really smart.

That’s the implication of fascinating new research published last month in the British Journal of Psychology. Evolutionary psychologists Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Norman Li of Singapore Management University dig in to the question of what makes a life well-lived. While traditionally the domain of priests, philosophers and novelists, in recent years survey researchers, economists, biologists and scientists have been tackling that question.

There’s a twist, though, at least as Kanazawa and Li see it. Smarter people may be better equipped to deal with the new (at least from an evolutionary perspective) challenges present-day life throws at us. “More intelligent individuals, who possess higher levels of general intelligence and thus greater ability to solve evolutionarily novel problems, may face less difficulty in comprehending and dealing with evolutionarily novel entities and situations,” they write.

It appears that the high IQ might actually have another less socially accepted skill that is less politically correct as defined by the masses.  They may just have thought out that they are able to be happier or more satisfied while being alone rather than by having to try and satisfy others definition of their happiness.

Conversely, they might find being around other people annoying, especially the chatty or needy.

Once you are able to happy alone, the ability to be happy with others is icing on the cake, but shouldn’t be the definition of the cake.

 

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