Researchers reveal a surprising link between intelligence and mental illness

Here is a brutal side effect of being highly intelligent:

People with high IQs are more at risk of developing mental and physical illness.

A new study published online in the journal Intelligence reports that highly intelligent people have a significantly increased risk of suffering from a variety of psychological and physiological disorders.

A team of US researchers surveyed 3,715 members of American Mensa with an IQ higher than 130. An average IQ score or normal IQ score is defined as a score between 85 and 115.

The researchers asked Mensa members to self-report on diagnosed and/or suspected mood and anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and physiological diseases that include environmental and food allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disease.

After comparing the outcome with the statistical national average for each condition the researchers found that Mensa members had considerably higher rates of varying disorders than the rest of the population.

For instance, they found that 20% of Mensa members with an IQ of 130 and over have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, compared with only 10% of the general public.

This implicates high IQ as being a potential risk factor for affective disorders, ADHD, ASD, and for increased incidence of disease related to immune dysregulation.

“Preliminary findings strongly support a hyper brain/hyper body association which may have substantial individual and societal implications and warrants further investigation to best identify and serve this at-risk population,” wrote the researchers.

Hyper brain / hyper body

Lead author of the study Ruth Karpinski and her colleagues had developed a hyper brain / hyper body theory of integration. Their hypothesis was that highly intelligent individuals react in an over excitable emotional and behavioral manner to their environment, which in turn could lead to an over excitable, hyper reactive central nervous system.

The smallest thing can lead to a reaction.

“A minor insult such as a clothing tag or an unnatural sound may trigger a low level, chronic stress response which then activates a hyper body response. When the sympathetic nervous system becomes chronically activated, it finds itself in a continuous fight, flight, or freeze state that triggers a series of immune changes in both the body and the brain-altering behavior, mood, and functioning,” explains Dr. Nicole Tetreault, co-author.

Karpinski says their findings are relevant because a significant portion of these individuals are suffering on a daily basis as a result of their unique emotional and physical over excitabilities.

The researchers pointed out that a high IQ was not the cause of mental illness, but still, people with high IQ have unique intensities and over excitabilities which can be both remarkable and disabling on many levels.

Science as a service

It’s great that this kind of research is being done and even better that the results are made available to the general public. Some of us know or live with people who exhibit these traits of over reactivity which is hard to deal with and difficult to understand. It is helpful to know that there is a basis for behavior that is puzzling and sometimes disconcerting. And knowledge brings a measure of understanding.


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