Why highly intelligent people suffer from more mental and physical disorders

Your brain's heightened sensitivity can make you perceptive and creative. But it's a double-edged sword, researchers find.

Why highly intelligent people suffer from more mental and physical disorders
Image source: Edvard Munch, The Scream c. 1893

People with high IQ are considered to have an advantage in many domains. They are predicted to have higher educational attainment, better jobs, and a higher income level. Yet, it turns out that a high IQ is also associated with various mental and immunological diseases like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, ADHD as well as allergies, asthma, and 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.


The study authors compared data 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 in order to examine 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, and 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, and 84% more likely to have an autoimmune disease.

Credit: Journal of Intelligence / High intelligence: A risk factor for psychological and physiological overexcitabilities

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 point out that highly intelligent people have tendencies for “intellectual overexcitabilites" 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 field of cognitive ability recognizes one aspect of highly intelligent people 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.

Heightened psychological responses can affect immunity, write the researchers. People with overexcitabilites may have strong reactions to seemingly harmless external stimuli like an annoying clothing tag or a sound. This 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 signaling 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. Тhe exploratory study done by the authors of this latest paper further supports that connection.

Based on their findings and previous studies the researchers have termed this phenomenon the hyper brain / hyper body theory of integration, explaining that:

The overexcitabilities specific to those with high intelligence may put these individuals at risk for hypersensitivity to internal and/or external environmental events. The rumination and worry that accompanies this heightened awareness may contribute to a chronic pattern of fight, flight, or freeze responses which then launch a cascade of immunological events. [...] Ideally, immune regulation is an optimal balance of pro- and anti-inflammatory response. It should zero in on inflammation with force and then immediately return to a calm state. In those with the overexcitabilities previously discussed, including in those with ASD, this system appears to fail to achieve a balance and thus inflammatory signals create a state of chronic activation.


Credit: Journal of Intelligence / High intelligence: A risk factor for psychological and physiological overexcitabilities

The authors conclude that it is important to further study the relationship between high intelligence (particularly the top 2%) and illness, especially in order to demonstrate causation and further bring to light the negative aspects 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."

U.S. Navy controls inventions that claim to change "fabric of reality"

Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

U.S. Navy ships

Credit: Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
  • Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
  • While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
Keep reading Show less

China's "artificial sun" sets new record for fusion power

China has reached a new record for nuclear fusion at 120 million degrees Celsius.

Credit: STR via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.

But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.

Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.

Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.

According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.

The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.

But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.

Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.

Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.

We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.

Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).

With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.

The science of sex, love, attraction, and obsession

The symbol for love is the heart, but the brain may be more accurate.

Videos
  • How love makes us feel can only be defined on an individual basis, but what it does to the body, specifically the brain, is now less abstract thanks to science.
  • One of the problems with early-stage attraction, according to anthropologist Helen Fisher, is that it activates parts of the brain that are linked to drive, craving, obsession, and motivation, while other regions that deal with decision-making shut down.
  • Dr. Fisher, professor Ted Fischer, and psychiatrist Gail Saltz explain the different types of love, explore the neuroscience of love and attraction, and share tips for sustaining relationships that are healthy and mutually beneficial.

Sex & Relationships

There never was a male fertility crisis

A new study suggests that reports of the impending infertility of the human male are greatly exaggerated.

Quantcast