Why Highly Intelligent People Suffer More Mental and Physical Disorders

People with high IQ levels are known to achieve more in fields of education, career and income. But their intelligence can also make them more susceptible to problems ranging from anxiety, bipolar disorders, depression and ADHD to allergies, asthma and immunological diseases. A new paper published in the Journal magazine talks about the possible reasons for such a link as they guide us through the ages, following a trail of literary works, art and scientific discoveries on how the body works.

The study deals with data taken from around 3715 members of the American Mensa Society (people within the highest 2% scores in intelligence tests) and analyses the occurrence of immunological and mental disorders in individuals of above average intelligence compared to the general population.

The results showed a staggering inclination to developing such problems in high IQ people – namely, a probability to be diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) that is 20% more than normal, an 80% susceptibility to have ADHD, 83% chances of suffering from anxiety, and a 182% more chance of developing any one or more kinds of mood disorder.

In the physiological aspect, it’s much the same, with highly intelligent individuals having a 213% chance of developing allergies, 108% chance of developing asthma, and an 84% possibility of having an autoimmune disorder. Scientists have found that gifted children with IQ above 160 have a 44% greater chance of developing asthma than the 20% of their more average peers.

Researchers are using PNI or Psychoneuroimmunology to get to the root cause of this phenomenon, studying the effects of prolonged stress as a coping mechanism to environmental stimuli and how it moulds the transmission of messages between the brain and the body’s immune system.

Studies have shown that people with higher IQs are prone to what is often called “intellectual overexcitabilities”, and an over-stimulation of the brain. This makes them hyper-aware to external stimuli around them, allowing them to perceive their environment more intensely and in unconventional ways, fuelling their creative and intellectual genius. At the same time, their excessive depth of thought might also trigger depression and other mental disorders.

This is found to be especially true for people of above average verbal intelligence such as poets, novelists and so on, their contemplation giving rise to worry and brooding, festering into depression and anxiety issues.

Such psychological oversensitivity to environmental impetus can trigger inapt immune responses. When the mind finds a random sound or object annoying and it keeps gnawing at the consciousness, the body can interpret it as a threat and react the same way as it would if the body is exposed to a foreign or toxic substance. This reaction involves an outburst of hormones, neurotransmission and a quick and panicked exchange of molecules between the brain and the body. When this keeps happening for a prolonged span of time, it can alter the neural connections and the body’s response centre, making it hypersensitive, triggering asthma, allergies and autoimmune diseases.

Calling this the Hyper brain/hyper body theory of integration, they explain 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.”

Source: BigThink

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