in , ,

Science explains why highly intelligent people prefer to be alone

Science has found that intelligent people like to be alone.

Scientists have a pretty good idea about what makes people happy. Exercise is known to reduce anxiety and help you relax. Reducing social media use will improve your emotional wellbeing. Being in nature brings us joy.

And, for most people, being around friends makes us feel content.

Friends will make you happier, unless you’re highly intelligent.

intelligent people be aloneThis quite surprising claim is backed up by research. In a paper published in the British Journal of Psychology, Norman Li and Satoshi Kanazawa explain why highly intelligent people experience lower life satisfaction when they socialize more frequently with their friends.

They based their findings in evolutionary psychology, suggesting that intelligence evolved as a quality for solving unique challenges. The more intelligent members of a group were more able to solve problems on their own without needing help from their friends.

People are happier being with friends as we evolved this way, but more intelligent people were happier being alone.

Here’s why.

How intelligence, population density, and friendship affect modern happiness

The researchers came to their conclusion after analyzing survey responses from 15,197 people between the ages of 18 and 28. They got their data as part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a survey which measures life satisfaction, intelligence and health.

One of their key findings was reported by Inverse: “Analysis of this data revealed that being around dense crowds of people typically leads to unhappiness, while socializing with friends typically leads to happiness – that is, unless the person in question is highly intelligent.”

Intelligent people, be aloneThat’s right: socializing with friends results in increasing levels of happiness unless you’re a really smart person.

The “savanna theory of happiness”

The authors explain their findings by invoking the “savanna theory of happiness”, which is based on the idea that people’s life satisfaction is based not only on what’s happening in the present, but also by how our ancestors may have reacted in the present.

The theory comes from evolutionary psychology, and argues that the human brain was largely designed by and adapted to the conditions of the environment before we created an agricultural based society. Therefore, the researchers argue, our brains are not well suited to comprehending and responding to the unique conditions of modern day society.

They analyzed two key factors that are unique to the contemporary era:

  • Population density
  • How frequently humans socialize with their friends

According to the researchers, today many people live in places of a higher population density than our ancestors would have lived in, and spend less time with friends than our ancestors did. Therefore, most people will become happier by living according to what is natural to them: be around less people, and spend more time with friends.

However, according to the researchers, this doesn’t apply to highly intelligent people.

“In general, more intelligent individuals are more likely to have ‘unnatural’ preferences and values that our ancestors did not have,” Kanazawa says. “It is extremely natural for species like humans to seek and desire friendships and, as a result, more intelligent individuals are likely to seek them less.”

Intelligent people be aloneThey also found that highly intelligent people feel they don’t benefit as much from friendships, and yet socialize more often than less intelligent people.

Explaining the research finding that highly intelligent people like to be alone

The key question for the researchers is why humans have adapted the quality of intelligence.

Like what you're reading? Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Evolutionary psychologists believe intelligence evolved as a psychological trait to solve new problems. For our ancestors, frequent contact with friends was a necessity that helped them to ensure survival. Being highly intelligent, however, meant that an individual was uniquely able to solve challenges without needing the help of someone else. This diminished the importance of friendships to them.

Therefore, a sign of someone being highly intelligent is uniquely being able to solve challenges without the help of the group.

Intelligent people be aloneHistorically, humans have lived in groups of around 150: the usual Neolithic village was about this size. Densely populated urban cities, on the other hand, are believed to bring out isolation and depression because they make it difficult to foster close relationships.

Yet, a busy and alienating place has less of a negative impact on more intelligent people. That may explain why highly ambitious people gravitate from rural areas to the cities.

“In general, urbanites have higher average intelligence than ruralites do, possibly because more intelligent individuals are better able to live in ‘unnatural’ settings of high population density,” says Kanazawa.

It doesn’t mean that if you like to be around your friends you’re not highly intelligent

It’s important to note that correlation in research findings doesn’t mean causation. In other words, these research findings don’t mean that if you enjoy being around your friends then you’re not highly intelligent.

While highly intelligent people may have adapted to be more comfortable in areas of high population density, highly intelligent may also be “chameleons” – people who are comfortable in many situations.

As the researchers concluded:

“More importantly, the main associations of life satisfaction with population density and socialization with friends significantly interact with intelligence, and, in the latter case, the main association is reversed among the extremely intelligent. More intelligent individuals experience lower life satisfaction with more frequent socialization with friends.”

One of the key takeaways from the research may be to apply this to the loners in your life. Just because someone likes to be alone, doesn’t mean they’re lonely. They may just be highly intelligent and able to solve challenges on their own.

EBOOK: Be your own life coach

10 Essential Steps to Creating a Life You Love is the perfect companion for those who’ve been wanting to change their life through life coaching, but lack the resources or time to find a professional life coach.

Jeanette Brown is a life coach with decades of coaching experience, and in this book provides a blueprint that will help you live the life you’ve always wanted.

With encouragement, humor and an emphasis on the practical, Jeanette sets out the 10 steps to taking control of our lives. Along the way, she uses case studies and motivational techniques to keep us going, coaching her readers in the same way that she would her personal clients.

Check out the eBook here.

NOW WATCH: I’m 36, still single, and finally figured out why



Do you want to make your life better?

If you answered "yes", then you need to check out our free salon, playing for a limited time:

The Hidden Trap of Trying to "Improve Yourself" (and What to Do Instead)

You see, most people believe that the path to changing your life comes from trying to "improve yourself". You've probably been told to "think positively", "creatively visualize" or "repeat affirmations".

In this free salon, Ideapod founder Justin Brown will explain why this is bad advice.

He'll break down the 5 most common myths of the self-help industry and why they’re so dangerous. Justin will also share a powerful 5-step process for creating change within, helping you to immediately create a different relationship with yourself from a place of power.

Justin is the founder of Ideapod and the instructor of Ideapod Academy's new online course: Developing Your Personal Power.

Be the first to comment on this article at Ideapod Discussions

Written by Justin Brown

I'm the CEO and co-founder of Ideapod, a platform for people to connect around ideas. I'm passionate about people thinking for themselves, especially in an age of information overload.

Over 30,000 scientific studies could be wrong, according to a shocking new report

36 questions to fall in love

The 36 questions that will make you fall in love with anyone